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Dear Paris negotiators: revolutionize tech transfer between nations – spurred by bottom-up strategies, solutions marketplaces & cell phones.



(This proposal will be further supplemented and revised.)

The global community faces a challenge: how do we lift developing nations out of poverty while avoiding the greenhouse emissions that come with economic growth and improving living standards?

The answer hinges on technology leapfrogging – specifically, the innovation and spread of technology beyond the originating nation to make a high-energy, low-emissions economy possible everywhere. However, technology transfer, via the existing funding/mechanisms such as the Global Environment Facility (GEF) or TRIPS Article 66.2, currently reflects top-down approaches (e.g., the GEF Technology Needs Assessment, which is driven by national governments) more than bottom-up ones with unmet needs, inspiration, and inventive solutions bubbling up from local citizens.

Juxtapose that understanding with Jeffrey Sachs' observation that "the cell phone is the single most transformative technology for development." In climate change mitigation and adaptation, the revolutionary potential of information and communications technologies (ICTs) are apparent in the new ways that cell phones are used by Tanzanians to pay by text their use of M-POWER solar home systems (rather than, say, kerosene lamps), which have meters linked to their cellphone numbers; by Nepal's rural communities to exchange warnings about weather disasters; and by India's small farmers, literate and illiterate alike, to share tips about agricultural and climate risks.

Add to these considerations the unfulfilled promise of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, which was brought into force more than three decades ago in order to curb toxic electronic waste and stop its dumping in poor nations. Unfortunately, many old phones still end up in impoverished countries with toxic effects. It's time to rethink the implementation of this convention so that we can solve multiple problems at the same time: curbing the dumping of hazardous electronic waste in developing nations, increasing mobile technology adoption in those same countries, and spurring the adoption of clean energy and adaptation improvements.

Therefore, the Paris negotiators should keep these goals in mind: make cell phones and their related services (e.g., bandwidth) and innovations (e.g., mobile payments) universal; bring more of a bottom-up grassroots approach to the spread of technological innovations in clean energy and adaptation; establish new problems-and-solutions idea marketplaces to innovate the innovation process; and remedy the international trade in electronic waste that's harming poorer nations. This proposal lays out several specific steps they may take to help reach those goals.

Which plan do you select for China?

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Which plan do you select for India?

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Which plan do you select for the United States?

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Which plan do you select for Europe?

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Which plan do you select for other developing countries?

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Which plan do you select for other developed countries?

Value not set.

What additional cross-regional proposals are included in your plan, if any?

How do the regional and cross-sectoral plans above fit together?

New agreements, understandings, and goals that could be made at the Conference of Parties (COP) 21 in Paris include the following:

  • As part of the technology framework to be adopted under Article 7 of the Paris meeting negotiating text, agree to create a global fund that works to make universal access to cell phones as a minimum and eventually to Internet-enabled smartphones, as well as support research & development in mobile phone technologies in climate mitigation & adaptation. Such innovations include mobile payment apps for solar homekits, crowdsourced weather forecasting, texting programs that enhance agricultural know-how by small farmers. These new funds should be in addition to and not carve-outs in existing climate financing mechanisms and funds.
  • Set monetary targets for negotiating parties to contribute to the newly established fund. (Just to be clear, this proposal strongly opposes the idea that some have proposed to abandon GHG emissions targets in favor of pursuing only technological innovation and R&D investment targets. We must do all of these things: price carbon, invest more in research & development, and revolutionize the positive spillover process, which is not happening fast and widespread enough.)
  • Work together to secure pledges from private telecom and electronics firms to participate in new systems that collect, refurbish, and distribute mobile phones to developing nations and make affordable Internet access/data plans available to those local populations. Negotiating states should aggressively push these private firms to redesign their products to facilitate those new systems and enhance compliance with the Basel Convention. While America is not a party to the Convention, all other industrialized nations are – and those countries should exercise their authorities so as to make international compliance the cost-effective option.
  • Explicitly specify that the new fund shall include a special focus on a bottom-up approach to identifying the innovation gaps of local populations, supporting local academic institutions and entrepreneurs, and matchmaking more effectively between potential participants in a technology transfer between nations.
  • Direct the Technology Executive Committee and the Climate Technology Centre and Network Sponsor to establish or commission the creation of a crowdsourcing platform to which ordinary citizens of developing nations can submit curated and translated descriptions of the day-to-day technology-related barriers they face – and to which experts can provide their (curated) responses. The purpose is to identify potential product markets and problems to solve via deeper conversations and matchmaking between universities, scientists, NGOs, and firms within and between countries. Just as we cannot have wealthy nations dominated by white people sending milk as food aid to developing nations full of lactose-intolerant populations, or "primitive" solar panels going unused in Pakistan, we must ensure in a non-patronizing way that new clean energy and adaptation technologies work well for the local communities. Existing platforms to model include Climate CoLab, staffed with translators, as well as, which connects human rights activists and refugees in various countries with translators, lawyers, and other experts.
  • Formulate recommendations for any new agreements needed under Article 11 of the Basel Convention, as well as existing cell phone recycling/waste policies such as the European Union's Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive.

Explanation of the emissions scenario calculated in the Impact tab

(No estimate provided in this version.)

What are the plan’s key benefits?

This proposal will result in more local populations in developing nations having mobile phones and related information and communications technologies (ICTs), which will help accelerate the adoption of clean energy and climate adaptation technologies. For an important example illustrating the potential of cell phones in climate change mitigation, see "Africa's Quiet Solar Revolution." Unless we can revolutionize the leapfrogging process to get clean energy & adaptation technologies into the hands of those in developing nations, faster and better, we will not solve in time the global problem of climate change.

The spread of mobile phones will also have positive spillover effects and aid other global development efforts that hinge on ICTs, such as those in public health, democracy and citizen empowerment, data collection in anti-poverty programs, and primary education. More importantly, we want to increase the basic capacities of local citizens, communities, and academic institutions to innovate and scale up for themselves – and this proposal seeks to aid this goal.

Finally, the global trade in electronic waste in ways that harm the poorest countries is still a major problem, despite the existence of the Basel Convention. This proposal attempts to rethink the problem (lots of mobile phones thrown away in rich developed nations and dumped in poorer nations) so as to solve other problems at the same time (the need for clean energy revolutions in developing nations that also support their rise out of poverty).

What are the plan’s costs?

At present this proposal does not attach specific financial amounts to its recommendations, such as the contribution targets for the new global fund for mobile technologies.

What are the key challenges to enacting this plan?

This proposal faces many of the same obstacles faced by other global plans, particularly the difficulty of striking consensus between countries with competing interests and financial stakes on who will do what and with whose money. That said, there is generally high public support for research & development and commercialization that support "innovation," so the political fights will center on funding amounts.

Serious discussion of technology transfer will bring in complicated and contentious discussions about intellectual property rights and national security issues, plus likely implicate pending international agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership. (We also do not know how well the TRIPS mechanism is working to support technology transfer to developing nations.) Telecommunications and electronics companies will also likely raise objections, particularly those relating to losses in the market for refurbished phones and rare earth metals/plastics reclaimed from them.


November-December 2015: Negotiators at the Paris meeting discuss and formulate targets.

By end of 2016: Parties secure and announce commitments under the new framework; establish specific metrics, such as the number of projects awarded to leverage mobile phone access to spread the adoption of solar energy systems and the penetration % of Internet-enabled smartphones in each country; the Technology Executive Committee and the Climate Technology Centre and Network Sponsor offers recommendations and model policies, as directed by the negotiating parties. Parties negotiate new bilateral and multilateral agreements under Article 11 of the Basel Convention.

By end of 2017: establish and start implementing the new global fund, as well as new Article 11 agreements under the Basel Convention; establish the new crowdsourcing platform to connect ordinary citizens and experts within and across countries in the developing and developed world.

2020 and beyond: continue to implement; secure funding commitments; collect and evaluate metrics.