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Poor Nations Demand Green Technology

Dec 14, 2007 - Associated Press

Uganda gets plenty of sun, making it a great spot for solar energy. There's only one problem: In one of the world's most impoverished nations, few people can afford an imported solar panel.

Poorer countries accuse the rich of pressuring them to control emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, while refusing to provide them with technology needed to do so without hurting their economies.

They have made their demands that rich nations provide cheap access to green know-how a centerpiece of the U.N. climate change conference in Bali, Indonesia.

"We know the challenges are there, but we cannot respond to the challenges because we don't have the capacity," said Maria Mutagamba, Uganda's environment minister.

Wealthy countries say they must consider demands of private companies for protection of their intellectual property rights, assurances they will have the opportunity to profit from their investments, and better regulation and laws in host nations.

Industrialized countries deny they are unfairly withholding know-how from poorer nations.

"Let there be no doubt, America is engaged in the transfer and receipt of technologies on a massive scale," Jim Connaughton, the chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, told reporters.

The need of developing countries for energy will only increase with economic growth, and they argue that reliance on outdated technology today will lock them into high-emissions patterns for decades to come.

The United States has long been the world's top greenhouse gas emitter, but some say it has already been eclipsed by rapidly growing China, a country that relies heavily on outdated and dirty coal-burning technology. India's burgeoning economy is also a growing environmental worry.

"What is needed in the short- to medium-term is for developed countries to speed up the process of transferring climate-sound technologies to developing countries," said Maxwell Kofi Jumah, Ghana's environment minister. "Time is running out and more action is needed."

Uganda relies on hydropower for almost all of its electricity. But droughts in recent years have cut the supply, forcing people chop down trees for firewood.

That's why Mutagamba, the environment minister, is so interested in solar power.

"We're still importing everything," said Mutagamba, explaining why solar panels are so expensive in her country. "When there's no electricity, then the people go and cut the forests."

A draft of the statement to be released at the end of the conference calls on countries negotiating a new global warming pact to consider ways of removing barriers to technology transfer, provide incentives and improve access to clean technology.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol on global warming already established ways of funneling green technology to developing countries. But money so far has focused on China, India and Brazil, leaving impoverished Africa mostly out of the process. A so-called Adaptation Fund, which helps countries adjust to the effects of rising temperatures, is seriously underfunded.

Developing nations have also called on the U.N. to fully fund the programs for technology transfer, set up powerful incentives for companies to share their know-how with the developing world, and set international targets for such transfers.

Wealthy countries, meanwhile, are pushing free-market answers to speed the diffusion of technologies.

The United States and the European Union, for instance, have proposed tearing down trade barriers to 43 green goods and services such as wind turbines. Washington is also concerned about protecting intellectual property rights as technology is spread around.

"If you want funds, venture capital funds, going to such inventions, the entrepreneurs, the businesses that invest, need to know they're going to get a return on their investment," U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said in Bali earlier this week.


Updated: 2003/07/28