Patents standing in the way of Combating Climate Change

As we approach the Copenhagen conference in December 2009, we’re finding a divide between developed countries like the US and developing countries like India and China. This is because rich nations want poorer countries to commit to drastic carbon emission cuts that the latter are unwilling to do without assistance.

Clean Technology and Intellectual Property (IP)

Given that it’s in everyone’s best interests to adopt clean energy technologies, it makes sense that developed countries should give poorer ones the means to do so. However, rich nations have issues like patents and intellectual property that they are unwilling to let go of. They want poor nations to pay the high prices for these technologies so that they can profit by selling them. It goes without saying that poor nations cannot afford these technologies as long as they’re sold by the rich countries. It’s no secret that big businesses are not happy with the whole climate change issue and are willing to sacrifice our planet at the altar of their profit.

Image Credit: Dominic’s pics

Opposing Clean Technology Transfer

Opposing Clean Technology Transfer

Developed nations (especially the US) say that a “free market” ensures that lower prices will result over time. But this doesn’t wash. For one thing, the “patents” for clean technologies take several decades to expire before a free market can ensue. Valuable time that we can’t afford to waste. By all estimates, we have a maximum of 10-15 years to cut and stabilize carbon emissions and for that, we must start now.

Developing and Developed – Not on the same plane

The truth is that developed countries have become rich in the first place at the cost of disrupting our planet. Not to blame them as such, since they didn’t know. But it does shift the burden of fixing the problem onto them since they created it.

Secondly, cutting carbon emissions will hurt poorer countries much more than it will developed countries. One reason is that people in rich nations are already well off. On the other hand, there is widespread poverty, lack of electricity and clean drinking water in poorer nations. These people will be doomed to remain in that state if carbon emissions are to be reduced without clean technologies to offset the loss. This is grotesquely unfair since it means that poor nations will be doomed to forever remain poor if they commit to cutting carbon emissions by themselves.

Another reason is that rich countries possess the know how that will enable them to cut carbon emissions without compromising economic development. Poor nations on the other hand will have to stop growing to achieve the same cuts. Once again, this is preposterously imbalanced.

In a way, developing countries are being punished for being poor since by being poor, they will suffer more. This is completely unfair. Certainly, developing countries also have to try and keep emissions in check – and from what we hear, they’re making more grassroots efforts than people in developed countries.

When all the world leaders meet in Copenhagen, it must be understood that it’s not a trade conference. It is meant to protect our planet. Something that they must be willing to make sacrifices for. Developed nations, having caused the problem must by necessity sacrifice more. No one’s asking for direct monetary assistance. The least that can be done is by helping poor nations help themselves by releasing patents and intellectual property rights for solar, wind and other clean energy sources. Given the burden of historic responsibility for the current crisis, it’s the least that can be done.

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