Technology Transfer for Sustainable Development

Hari Srinivas
Policy Analysis Series E-073/ May 2015.

Technology transfer is defined as a process for conceiving of a new application for an existing technology. It is also defined as a process for converting research into economic development. The term technology transfer is also used to mean licensing intellectual property to a manufacturer for production in a product, or reducing an idea to practice in a prototype, or even the process of recording concepts of technology know-how in a professional paper or patent application. The noun technology is simultaneously used to mean concepts, descriptions, components, processes and products. People use the verb transfer to mean moving from one point to another.

Successful technology transfer means that it is necessary to a broad view of "Technology" to mean not only machines and equipment, but also the skills, abilities, knowledge, systems and processes necessary to make things happen. Thus technologies are meant to be total systems that include know-how, procedures, goods and services, as well as organizational and operational measures.

A "technology transfer" is, in reality, a structural process of learning. The key components of a transfer can be identified as knowledge derived from real-world experience together with human expertise capable of transforming that knowledge into action. Successful technology transfer requires inputs such as coordination between technology developers and users; a facilitative environment that is supportive of entrepreneurship; and networks and collaborations that provide referral links for information, finance and other pertinent resources.

Successful transfer of appropriate technologies - particularly those that contribute to sustainable development - is essential to facilitating national and community development and enhancing sustainability, especially in developing countries and countries with economies in transition. Broad based involvement of a range of stakeholders, providing different elements of a technology transfer cycle, is essential for speedier uptake of technologies. Recognizing this, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, one of the many outputs of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), specifically mentions in Chapter 34:

States should cooperate ... by enhancing the development, adaptation, diffusion and transfer of technologies, including new and innovative technologies.

The chapter has formalized a definition of 'environmentally sound technologies' as technologies which protect the environment, are less polluting, use all resources in a more sustainable manner, recycle more of their wastes and products, and handle residual wastes in a more acceptable manner than the technologies for which they are substitutes.


ew and efficient technologies will be essential to increase the capabilities (in particular of developing countries) to achieve sustainable development, sustain the world's economy, protect the environment, and alleviate poverty and human suffering.

Inherent in these activities is the need to address the improvement of technology currently used and its replacement, when appropriate, with more accessible and more environmentally sound technology"

- Agenda 21

Such technologies must be underpinned by the parallel development of more holistic environmental management strategies. This requires integrated planning and management, good governance, effective capacity building and informed decisions in implementing sustainable solutions.

Linked to this is the need for 'self-seeding', culturally appropriate, ecologically sustainable technologies and infrastructure. Transparency, accountability and good governance are fundamental prerequisites. Baselines, benchmarks, codes of practice and indicators of sustainable development are tools for assessing performance on a continuous basis and modifying strategies in moving forward.

It is clear that for broad-based sustainable development, we need to apply sustainability criteria to all technology and the transition of all technology to be more environmentally sound; capture the full life cycle flow of the material, energy and water in the production and consumption system; cover the full spectrum from basic technologies that are adjunct to the production system, to fully integrated technologies where the environmental technology is the production technology itself; include closed system technologies, as well as environmental technologies that may result in emissions; and considers technology development within both the ecological and social context.

Building facilitative rationale for the identification, uptake and use of technologies for sustainability can be found in a number of multi-lateral environmental agreements and conventions. Many of the requirements and obligations under these MEAs can be met through the appropriate use of technologies.

For example, three conventions provide an international framework governing the environmentally sound management of hazardous chemicals throughout their lifecycles. These include (1) the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, (2) The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in Trade, and (3) The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). Together the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions cover key elements of "cradle-to-grave" management of hazardous chemicals, most comprehensively in the case of POPs, which are covered by all three treaties.

The issues covered by the three conventions, such as existing and new chemicals, import/export controls, comprehensive waste management strategies, environmental releases, information and hazard communication, replacement of hazardous chemicals, are essentially facilitated by a comprehensive strategic framework built around technologies.

A similar understanding can be built around other MEAs and Conventions, where technology plays a critical role in implementing sustainable management practices that help in meeting obligations and requirements. What is essential is, on one hand, to promote shared responsibility and cooperative efforts among different stakeholders - from the public, private and community sectors - in order to protect human health and the environment from potential negative effects and harm, and on the other to facilitate use of systems facilitating information exchange about their characteristics, by providing for a national decision-making process on their development and use, and by disseminating these decisions to all stakeholders.

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