Intellectual property and climate change

Bear with me on this post. It spans intellectual property, green energy, other bloggers and UK energy policy .

Yesterday, I attended the Regen South West Renewable futures conference. You can read about what was said here. I even get a quote!

One of the speakers on the event was a guy called John Geesman who is an American who had a startling grasp of UK energy policy. He also has a blog called “Green Energy War

He’s just written a post called “Free Trade, Global Warming, and Beliefs of Elites”, sounds great doesn’t it? In it discusses (briefly) the role of trade and IP relating to clean energy tech and developing countries. Arguing that the US hardline on IP damages the ability of countries to mitigate or adapt to climate change.

He also draws attention to an excellent report from Third World Network on the fact that through the “Foreign Relations Authorization Act” the US have established a policy that they will “oppose any global climate change treaty that weakens the IPRs of American green technology”

This seems to offer a new front on the IP rights vs human rights debate. The argument has been well rehearsed in between the pharmaceutical industry and developing country health campaigners. But at Copenhagen we may see the same debate between clean tech companies and environmental groups. As if to underline the point General Electric borrowed pharma’s script and told congress:

“Such measures would be counterproductive from the point of view of combating climate change because they would deter innovation and technology deployment. In addition, they would be severely detrimental to US export interests … Companies will be careful to avoid licensing technology or even selling products to customers in countries where those customers could reverse engineer, take and use the intellectual property rights.”

So this begs the question, are patents and IP rights a desirable way to incentivise things that need be deployed for a global good?

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3 thoughts on “Intellectual property and climate change

  1. Urging government to “listen to industry” is normally something I associate with people I disagree with, but since you said it Rich, I’ll believe that industry does have a point. Does the RHI rely on patent rights and IP?

    • My chat about the RHI is not much to do with patents etc. where I was speaking was just where I met the author of greenenergywar.com .

      Since you ask, the RHI is the renewable heat incentive. This is a mechanism to incentivise the use of renewable heat production. It is basically a feed in tariff for heat, so for every kWh of heat generated from biomass boilers you will get paid a fixed amount. This is much more reliable than the current grant system.

      The cost of the scheme will be met by a levy on other heat users. So all gas customers will pay to subsidise those renewable generators. This approach has been taken in many other European countries although in the past only for electricity. Under the EU renewable energy directive the UK is committed to producing 12% of heat from renewable sources so this is the scheme. There are issues around fuel poverty and these types of schemes, the burden should not fall on the poorest. DECC claim to be thinking about this.

      Where I waded in, was that the level of the RHI must be enough to incentivise installations to reach the targets. Since all the experience in terms of what incentive different types of installations require to be cost effective is held within the companies trying to sell the stuff, I suggested that DECC make sure they consider the opinions and evidence of the renewables companies rather than rely on their own theoretical models. But they do love models.

      It is due to kick in April 2010 provided the Tories don’t axe the whole thing. renewables companies have been campaigning for it since as long as I can remember and finally it looks like it may actually happen.

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