DESA News Vol. 12, No. 12 December 2008


Poor countries seek technology to brace for climate change Poor countries seek technology to brace for climate change

To accelerate technology development and transfer will be essential for developing countries to achieve climate change goals

Technology is a critical means by which countries rich and poor can adapt to and mitigate climate change. Indeed, technology will be the key to averting catastrophic climate change in this century. Through the development and deployment of clean and climate-friendly technologies, the world can adopt a powerful, integrated approach to tackling climate change and promoting sustainable development.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has already announced the heartening news that the portfolio of technologies necessary for achieving global climate goals is – or will become – available. But these technologies are largely located in the industrial countries. Developing countries - those that are most vulnerable to climate change - currently have the least access to these technologies. The essence of the challenge, then, is to sharply accelerate technology development and transfer.

Beijing Conference calls for wave of technological transformation

Only effective international cooperation can achieve the wave of technological transformation that developing countries need to address climate change over the coming decades, according to participants attending the Beijing High-level Conference on Climate Change:  Technology Development and Technology Transfer that concluded on 8 November 2008. The meeting was held in the run-up to the next Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Poznan, Poland in December 2008.  More than 30 ministerial-level representatives, four heads of United Nations agencies, and representatives from over 67 countries participated.

Opening the two-day meeting, China’s Premier Wen Jiabao urged developed countries to transfer climate-friendly technologies to China and other developing countries, and he called on the international community to establish a fund and mechanism for overcoming technology transfer barriers.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his message to the Conference, stressed the importance of making newer and cleaner technology available across the globe. “New thinking and specific measures are necessary to remove existing barriers to clean technology transfer and diffusion. Clean technologies have proven their worth again and again,” he said.

Many of the 800 participants attending the meeting stressed the need to provide early sharing of technologies as they develop so they can be adapted to differing climates and national settings. They also highlighted the need to accelerate, in a systematic way, the diffusion of advanced technologies in the market globally. A statement and summary accepted at the conclusion of the conference emphasizes the “need to accelerate research, development, deployment and transfer of technologies”, in order to address the challenges posed by climate change.

During the conference, participants discussed the status of clean technologies, the barriers to transfer, as well as mechanisms to overcome them. Public-private cooperation and partnerships were highlighted as a key to the deployment in the marketplace where the majority of the investments will be made. Participants also highlighted that the scale of the climate change challenge calls for new and innovative mechanisms of international cooperation, particularly in the fields of research, development, transfer and deployment of climate related technologies.

“Of particular value at this Conference was that experts, policy-makers and other stakeholders engaged each other on critical issues, away from the constraints of the negotiating table,” said Sha Zukang, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs. “We saw areas where real differences persist, but also areas of common interest and possible convergence,” he added.

“I am confident that the Conference will contribute positively to the forthcoming climate change negotiations in Poznan in December,” said Zie Zhenhua, Vice Chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission of China.

Challenges for developing countries to combat climate change

Developing countries are the most at risk from climate change and have the most at stake at Poznan and beyond. They are also the least prepared for and least able to afford adaptation to climate change. For them, therefore, the stakes in technology transfer are enormous and often a matter of life and death, particularly in such countries as small island developing states and those of the drought-ridden Sahel.

Technology transfer obligations and commitments of countries are set out in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol. The Bali Action Plan also singles out technology transfer as a key area for further progress on the road to a new agreement on climate at Copenhagen in 2009.

World leaders have recognized that concerted global action is a prerequisite for stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions at safe levels. Technology is one area that unites the interests of developed and developing countries. All countries have an interest in the rapid development, deployment and diffusion of climate-friendly technologies – thereby enhancing country capacities to take effective mitigation actions and pursue adaptation strategies.

Moving to action in technology transfer

But the question remains – can we move from recognition of shared interests to action? How do we reckon with such tough issues as who should transfer what, to whom, and at what price?

It is well known that technology development and transfer is a broad, multifaceted topic. Four considerations should guide further global action on technology transfer. First, it should be clear that hardware supply is only the most visible facet of technology transfer. To this, one must add complex processes of sharing knowledge, know-how and adapting technology to meeting local conditions. Second, the approach followed by countries should be comprehensive, meaning that it should consider both mitigation and adaptation technologies. Sometimes adaptation technologies are neglected in favour of more well-known and easily-identified mitigation technologies. Third, the discussion of technology transfer should be guided and informed by a clear understanding of the status of development of key technologies. Fourth, countries should seek to analyze and then identify the major barriers and obstacles to transfer and diffusion of clean and climate-friendly technologies. In other words, their approach must be practical.

Available technologies and innovation

Regarding the portfolio of available technologies, one should differentiate between: (i) mature technologies, with a proven record of deployment; (ii) state-of-the-art technologies, which are nearly ready for large-scale deployment; and (iii) technologies still under development.

Energy efficiency technologies are technically mature, and energy efficiency is repeatedly singled out as one of the most important near-term mitigation options. It has the potential to contribute towards both climate and other goals, such as improving air quality. According to analysis by the International Energy Agency, end-use electricity efficiency and fuel efficiency have the potential to reduce energy-related carbon dioxide emissions by 47 per cent in 2030. In this regard, China’s policy of reducing the energy intensity of its economy by 20 per cent, between 2005 and 2010, is a noteworthy step.

Renewable technologies, such as wind and solar, are also examples of technologies that are mature and available in the market. Economies of scale will bring down prices, and performance improvements will occur. Appropriate policy support is required in order to secure the place of renewable technologies in the energy mix.

Firms from developing countries are innovating and amassing market share in the field of renewable energy. For instance, Suntech, a Chinese firm, has become a leader on solar PV, based on a combination of its own technologies with that purchased from developed countries.

State-of-the-art technologies include high-pressure coal combustion plants and hybrid vehicle technology. Significant additional R&D, and demonstration at scale, are required for mitigation technologies such as second-generation biofuels, hydrogen fuel cells for cars, grid-connected solar photovoltaics, and carbon capture and storage (CCS).

CCS is of major concern, given the reliance of many developed and developing countries on coal. The lack of funding and incentives for full-scale and demonstration projects constitutes a major barrier. At present, the necessary technical expertise and know-how is largely in the hands of a small number of firms based in developed countries. Further delay would mean that the technology essentially comes too late to make the needed difference.

At the far end of the spectrum are new technologies which might emerge from the discovery of new materials, the development of new equipment and methods, and the identification and development of new fuels. This will require a major push on research and development (R&D). Technology cooperation between developed and developing countries, and increasingly between developing countries, will need to be significantly enhanced. Similarly, it will be necessary to catalyze the complementary roles of the public and private sectors in technology development and technology transfer.

Barriers for technology development and transfer

What are the critical barriers impeding technology development and technology transfer? For developing countries, one of the most significant barriers is that, at current costs, the energy services from climate-friendly technologies are too costly for the vast majority of their populations. In addition, capital shortages and high capital costs are still commonplace in many developing countries – a situation exacerbated by the current financial crisis.

Other barriers include market conditions, inappropriate fiscal and regulatory policies, lack of access to information, the condition of infrastructure, and weak human resource capacities.

The legal and regulatory frameworks can promote and enable – or slow – technology development and transfer. In this respect, views differ sharply on whether prevailing international intellectual property rights protections constitute genuine barriers to technology transfer and diffusion. Certainly, the rationale for intellectual property rights is to promote innovation. But perhaps by now, the pendulum has swung too far - from protection to protectionism.

On the eve of the next Conference of Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Poznan, Poland, tough negotiations between governments on these hard issues still lie ahead. Through well-informed substantive discussions, countries will need to confront head on these thorny issues, which simply will not go away. Only by enlightened negotiation, with the welfare of all of humanity in mind, can nations rich and poor ensure that, ultimately, a binding outcome emerges from the subsequent Copenhagen Conference of Parties in 2009 - an outcome that enables a climate for human survival in the decades to come.

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Better population and housing censuses help measure development progressBetter population and housing censuses help measure development progress

2010 marks the next round of housing censuses around the globe and countries need to step up their implementation

Reliable and up-to-date statistics are the foundation for effective national development policies. As Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Development Sha Zukang puts it, “statistics are an integral part of the United Nations Development Agenda.” The United Nations conferences and summits have led to unprecedented agreement on international development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals. “The challenge now,” proposes Sha Zukang, “is to step up their implementation, and further strengthen the monitoring of and accountability for progress.”

Reliable statistics for development require regular censuses in order to provide a meaningful core set of national data and information necessary for socio-economic planning and governance. United Nations statistical norms call for each country to have a census every ten years at least. "The United Nations,” recalls Paul Cheung, Director of DESA’s Statistics Division, “has been helping the countries of the world conduct population and housing censuses since the 1950s.” The year 2010 marks the next round of censuses around the globe.

The 2010 Census Round

The 2010 World Programme on Population and Housing Censuses, a United Nations initiative to support the 2010 census round, sees population and housing censuses as a main source of data for effective development planning and objective decision-making. In addition, the data enable monitoring population trends and programmes, as well as evaluation of policies. The 2010 World Programme seeks to ensure that each Member State conducts a population and housing census at least once in the period from 2005 to 2014 and disseminates the results.

The Marrakech Action Plan agreed at the Second Meeting of the International Round Table on Managing for Development Results held in February 2004 identified the implementation of the 2010 World Programme on Population and Housing Census as a key means to improve national and international statistical capacity. The action plan calls on countries to plan a census during the 2010 round, and on the United Nations to guide the collection of official statistics, including the coordination of international standards for outputs and to continue to support countries undertaking censuses.

Major activities of the 2010 World Programme include formulating census methodological guidelines, facilitating exchanges of experience, and helping countries to improve their statistical capacity in census-taking. Census methodology is constantly changing and moving forward. Exchanging national experiences and know-how contributes significantly to timely and reliable census results and efficient and effective census operations. And that is why the Programme stresses regional and South-South cooperation.

DESA capacity building activities for censuses

“No census can be perfect, regardless of the methodology adopted,” points out Ms. Rosemary Bender of Statistics Canada, who chaired a joint meeting of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the European Statistical Office (EUROSTAT) in Geneva in May 2008. “Quality assurance, therefore, should be an essential component of census programmes.” The technical assistance provided by DESA to national statistical offices seeks to promote capacity building for quality assurance among other things. To support the 2010 World Programme on Population and Housing Censuses, DESA has appointed an Interregional Advisor on Population and Housing Censuses to provide the necessary technical support to ensure that member states participate actively in the Programme. The advisor provides technical support through correspondence, websites, e-mail, missions to countries and regions, and multi-country workshops, using a combination of face-to-face cooperation and e-TC or electronic technical cooperation.

Additionally, DESA’s Statistics Division is conducting in 2008, a series of regional workshops on data processing, with emphasis on contemporary technologies for data capture and data editing. So far, six workshops have been conducted in Doha, Geneva, Tanzania, Bangkok, Mali and Chile, for their respective regions. The upcoming workshop in Minsk, Belarus (8-12 December) targets the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

These workshops present international standards for processing data from population and housing censuses and highlight the significant additional capabilities of contemporary technologies and their use for census data capture and data editing. The workshops cover such contemporary technologies in census data capture, as the use of optical mark recognition (OMR), optical character recognition and intelligent character recognition (OCR/ICR).

The workshops also go over the process stages for data capture; provide an overview of major commercial suppliers for data capture; review the principles and practices for census data coding and data editing; and suggest ways of improving the management and planning of the census, in­cluding through outsourcing. The workshops also enable the sharing of national experiences in census data processing across countries.

Although countries should use the best available data capture technology, they are strongly advised, when deciding on technology use, to consider their individual circumstances, including their available financial resources, expertise and outsourcing opportunities. The importance of adequate planning for the census, including for data capture is a key message of the workshops. In particular, it is stressed that decisions regarding outsourcing of data processing should be taken early enough to allow time for the bidding process, and for testing and implementing the technical specifications. Furthermore, the implementation of quality assurance systems during data processing is essential for good quality census outputs.

The Belarus workshop on census data processing builds on the lessons learned from the previous workshops, and focuses specifically on contemporary technologies for data capture, methodology and practices of data editing, documentation and archiving. The target audience of the meeting includes managers and experts in national and international statistical offices responsible for census planning and management.

The workshop covers the 2010 World Programme on Population and Housing Censuses and the preparations of the 2010 round of censuses in the European region; a review of the United Nations Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses, the Conference of European Statisticians Recommendations for the 2010 censuses of population and housing as well as international recommendations on census planning and management. The workshop also goes over international recommendations on contemporary practices in census cartography and the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), provides an introduction to GIS fundamentals as well as an introduction to data capture methods.

Learning from census taking in Ethiopia and Mozambique

Building on its decades of experience, DESA’s Statistics Division continues to promote the sharing of census experiences at the global level and through South-South cooperation. At a DESA side event at the last Statistical Commission in May 2008, Mrs. Samia Zekaria Gutu, Director General of the Central Statistical Agency of Ethiopia presented the 2007 Population and Housing Census of Ethiopia. She focused on recent experiences of census-taking in pastoral areas and on the application of new technologies for data capture. The Ethiopian census set two distinct census dates for the sedentary population and the nomadic population. The census 2007 was the first census in Ethiopia enumerating the entire population. Mrs. Gutu detailed the use of technology during the census operation including satellite imagery for demarcation of enumeration areas for the pastoral areas where the nomadic population lives and scanning technology for data capture. She also commented on the special challenges which pastoral regions posed for the census taking.

The Ethiopian experience highlights the importance of involving national agencies and stakeholders in all phases of census planning and conducting because they can add important and relevant experiences. The Ethiopian case shows that new technologies should only be deployed after a careful testing and consideration process which may involve a direct comparison of competing technologies or methodologies in pilot censuses. Ethiopia also benefited from the experiences and knowledge of other countries, which greatly enriched the planning and conduct of the census process.

The 2007 census in Mozambique, presented by Mr. João Dias Loureiro, President of the country’s national statistical office, involved the creation of executive organs at the national, sub-national, and local levels, because the execution of the census was decentralized. Mr. Loureiro highlighted that politicians helped to sensitize the public at the local level on the importance of the census. Strong political commitment made the census a national priority. At the same time, the politicians did not interfere in the technical running of the census. Mr. Loureiro confirmed that the politicians provided the Population and Housing Census with strong commitment. Additionally, as head of the NSO, he regularly attends cabinet meetings, although not a member of the cabinet. Accordingly, “cabinet members and the members of parliament,” Loureiro revealed, “are constantly updated on statistical activities”.

The experience of Mozambique suggests that conducting a successful census requires, among other things, strong political support at all levels for the census process, with due respect for the independence of the statistical agencies from any political interference in the technical areas of census taking. An effective census also calls for strong advocacy, publicity and social mobilization, including traditional leaders, unions, youth organization and other groups and entities under the leadership of a strong national statistical office. Above all, what is needed to make it all work, is a well-organized and structured census team.

The censuses in Ethiopia and Mozambique show clearly that poor countries can indeed conduct good censuses when strong political and social support are combined with a respect for the professional independence of the census conducting agency. The national statistical offices also need to possess strong technical knowledge. As the 2010 census round unfolds, DESA’s Statistical Division will continue to support national efforts through its closely linked network of national statistical offices.

Summing up, Director Paul Cheung concludes that, “the United Nations global census programme is one of the most successful statistical projects in the world, providing every ten years, comprehensive population and housing benchmarks for the world. A successfully implemented census also has a tremendous positive impact on the national statistical system.”

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Doha Conference to limit the impact of financial crisis on developing countries

Doha Conference to limit the impact of financial crisis on developing countries

At the opening of the International Conference on Financing for Development in Doha on 29 November, the Secretary-General of the United Nations called for bold and effective efforts to ensure that today’s financial turmoil does not become tomorrow’s human crises with particularly devastating effects on the world’s poorest. Mr. Ban noted that “without exaggeration, we can say that the well-being of our people and health of our societies – even the future of our planet – depend on what we do today and in the weeks to come.”

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