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Are policymakers losing sight of the core role IP will have in the innovations needed to tackle climate change?

Over the course of three days in November the Sustainable Innovation Forum has been taking place in Glasgow, UK alongside the COP26 climate summit. The Forum is intended to offer an opportunity for stakeholders to “forge the cross sector, public private partnerships essential for transformational change”. The scale of the change needed to tackle climate change is enormous and it is clear that the transformation will be underpinned, at least in part, by technological innovation. That was reflected in the Paris Agreement, which stated that: "Accelerating, encouraging and enabling innovation is critical for an effective, long-term global response to climate change and promoting economic growth and sustainable development."

More recently, the International Energy Agency has said: "Achieving net-zero emission targets depends on strong and targeted R&D and innovation efforts in critical technologies. In the Sustainable Development Scenario, almost 35% of the cumulative CO2 emissions reductions by 2070 compared with the Stated Policies Scenario comes from technologies that are currently at the prototype or demonstration phase which will not become available at scale without further R&D. About 40% of the cumulative emissions reductions rely on technologies that have not yet been commercially deployed in mass-market applications."

Similar emphasis on innovation is seen in the Australian Government’s plan for reducing emissions by 2050, under which technology will drive 40% of the reductions. The plan simultaneously makes clear that more private investment in these technologies is necessary, with the government’s ‘Technology Investment Roadmap 2020’ identifying that the state will seek between $3 and $5 in new co-investment for every dollar it invests, on average, in low-emissions technologies.

It is clear that innovation will power the energy transition.  Intellectual property (IP) will, in turn, underpin that innovation.  Used well, IP has the potential to incentivise innovation and enhance the commercial viability and dissemination of new technologies by providing greater certainty over returns on investments. Get it wrong, though, and promising breakthroughs may struggle to obtain the funding necessary to be scaled up, or investment may be wasted where development of a promising technology is blocked due to infringement of third party rights.

IP is, therefore, a strategic issue that should be on the radar of all those involved in the on-going push for low-carbon technologies but which, to date, seems notably lacking from many discussions on this topic. If IP is not proactively considered as part of innovation strategy in this space, not only may investors and developers lose out but, ultimately, society as a whole may too if the development of potentially beneficial technologies cannot be commercialised and disseminated easily, or at all.  Accelerating, encouraging and enabling innovation is critical for an effective, long-term global response to climate change and promoting economic growth and sustainable development.

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Rebekah Gay

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