Access to affordable technologies: an essential prerequisite for development (09/26/2015)
Launch of the Technology facilitation mechanism, organized by France and Brazil – Address by Mr Laurent Fabius, French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development – 26 September 2015
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Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
I am delighted to be here today with you, particularly my Brazilian friend and counterpart, for the launch of this technology facilitation mechanism.
What does this mechanism seek to do? It seeks to promote science, technology and innovation, so as to help, as has been excellently put, in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). And it is the result of negotiations that have been carried out since the United Nations “Rio+20” Conference, so it goes back quite some way. And I am pleased that we have found a solution together, because this subject is both very important and very delicate.
To achieve this result, and I hope, like you, Jan, that it will be a success, Brazil and France have worked together in negotiations held in the framework of the Addis Ababa Conference on Financing for Development. And it is yet another example of successful cooperation that, in a way, overcomes the North-South divide. It is true that we had already cooperated, some years ago, when we together launched the international mobilization for innovative financing sources for development. At the time, we sought to establish international levies on activities that benefited from globalization. Now, that idea that once was utopian has become a reality, even if it still remains too modest. All that means that we can work together, and I would like to commend the work accomplished by our Brazilian friends to ensure the success of all these negotiations. I would also like to seize this opportunity to commend their commitment to the climate negotiations, and I will come back to these at the end.
Dear friends, universal access to affordable technologies is an essential prerequisite for development, especially sustainable development. I will take one example: India – which I am pleased to see represented here. 400 million of people do not have access to electricity. As Prime Minister Modi often says, their first priority is to provide that electricity. The Indian government has set itself a considerable challenge: installing, I believe, almost 200 gigawatts of additional renewable energy capacity by 2022. And it is clear that if we seek to provide electricity to 400 million people by drawing solely on coal stocks, that would raise enormous problems, including as far as public health is concerned. The Indian government’s goal is therefore to regularly increase the share of clean energy in the energy mix, but that will only be possible if the technologies required are accessible under conditions and at a price that make the solutions economically viable. And technological breakthroughs are needed in certain areas, such as energy storage and the quality of distribution networks. I chose this example because everybody, of course, has it in mind.
Everyone agrees on the principle. The difficulty comes with putting it into practice and speeding up the access of developing countries to technologies, which requires progress in several areas. I have a few in mind.
Firstly, we need to facilitate transfer of existing technologies. From this point of view, we face two challenges: reducing their cost and facilitating local production. Many people often mention what was done in the area of HIV medications. As you know, mechanisms were put in place, such as the UNITAID Medicines Patent Pool, which do not undermine intellectual property rights and which ensure that innovation pays. And these instruments do, unquestionably, facilitate the access of countries in developing countries to licence contracts allowing them to produce locally. The problem is that this example, which is an interesting one, cannot easily be reproduced identically in other areas. But we need to keep in mind the fact that, in certain cases, the cost of transfer is a barrier to the competitiveness of technology locally. And we need therefore to explore available means of remedying that problem.
Secondly, we need to develop applications of these innovations that are adapted to developing countries; We need to move beyond the configuration that is so often raised, whereby technologies are invented in the North and transferred to the South. Not only do we need solutions suited to the constraints and aspirations of the countries where the most part of the demand is situated – developing countries – but we also need ones that fully exploit the innovative potential of these countries. So together, countries of the North and South, we need to invent a new generation of technologies. There too, we have positive examples, such as the “green revolution” in the area of agriculture, but we need to try to achieve the generalization of the approach.
Lastly, I feel research and development needs to be speeded up in key areas. I just mentioned energy storage and transport, but a lot also needs to be done in terms of nutrition, farming and health.
This facilitation mechanism we are talking of will contribute to progress in various areas, I believe, in several ways:
— Firstly, by setting up a working group supervised by the United Nations, bringing together all stakeholders, not only in the UN system, but also involving the private sector and civil society. The diplomatic and economic spheres absolutely must be more closely linked.
— Secondly, we need to create an online platform to identify existing initiatives in the fields of science and technology, and enable those in need of open source technologies to access them and implement sustainable development.
— Thirdly, the idea is to organize an annual forum, and as early as 2016.
And, through these very concrete examples, the aim is to network all stakeholders in order to produce new, concrete partnerships.
I would like to add a last word on the climate negotiations, as I will be presiding our much talked about Paris Conference. This meeting will be held in France at the end of the year. It needs to see the adoption of what would, after Rio in 1992, be the first universal climate agreement, which this time needs to include commitments from all parties.
Technologies are, of course, central to the demands of developing countries. When I talk to leaders from developing countries, they say to me “You’re quite right, Mr Fabius – where is the financing? Where are the technologies?” And that is absolutely key. A mechanism already exists, with a similar goal to that which we are establishing today, but with a much more limited scope. But demand remains high.
Some countries would like the Green Climate Fund to be able to finance the purchase of licences by developing countries. Others would like more technical assistance to better share technologies. We have been working with both governments and private investors for several months on a few avenues, and I will cite just a few:
— Firstly, a commitment from all countries with research capabilities, or funding to support research work in other countries, to increase their efforts to foster the green economy. If, for example, the G20 countries could commit to that during their Summit in Turkey in November, that would of course send an extremely important positive signal. So, that is to increase resources for research work.
— Secondly, we need an equivalent commitment from major private investors. And I think that, including this week, there will be quite spectacular actions by major private investors, and that is wonderful.
— Lastly, it is important to launch international partnerships in key areas. For example, decentralized solar power at the level of the municipality or canton, which is a major stake for hundreds of millions of people in Asia and Africa. Energy storage, which is a prerequisite for massive deployment of renewable energy, is another, as is irrigation, for an agriculture that consumes less water and energy. Forging international partnerships is probably one of the most important points. Investment will come and will be fruitful if we put in place properly structured, inclusive structures focused on a precise problem, seeking to address real needs and based on a genuine roll-out strategy that draws on the complementarity of all talents to reduce costs.
That, my dear friends, is what I wanted to say in a few words.
All of us here today believe in international cooperation in the area of technology. We are convinced that this mechanism, open to all stakeholders, can and must be a useful tool. It is now up to us to seize its opportunities and to persuade businesses and researchers to do the same, so as to achieve, my dear colleagues, tangible results and fulfil the promises of Rio. Thank you very much.