‘Technology transfer’ accord boosts monitoring of urban development

Technology Facilitation Mechanism excites developing countries and urbanists alike.
A "pay as you go" solar array in Rwanda, seen here in October 2013, offers lighting and phone-charging for around USD 1.50 a day. (Azuri Technologies/USAID)

For years, poor countries have urged the rich world to allow them access to technologies that could help in their development needs — a key element in what’s come to be known as the “leapfrogging” process by which developing countries are able to jump directly to cheaper, cleaner or more efficient technologies.

While such technology transfers have indeed taken place on case-by-case bases, developed countries long resisted calls to scale up this process over fears of diluting intellectual property rights.

Yet last week, following a multiyear negotiation, the two sides finally reached agreement at the Financing for Development (FFD) conference in Addis Ababa. There, a proposed “technology facilitation mechanism” (TFM) made its way into the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. The TFM is now set to formally launch at the Special Summit on Sustainable Development in September, where the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be finalized.

The new TFM will consist of a U. N. inter-agency task team and a multi-stakeholder forum, both focused on science, technology and innovation for achieving the SDGs. The forum will meet annually for two days ahead of the High-Level Political Forum, the annual review of global progress on the SDGs.

A key public-information component is included in the new agreement, as well. The TFM will lead to the creation of an online, open platform to provide a comprehensive index of existing technologies and tools that could benefit the implementation of the SDGs.

In his opening remarks at the FFD conference, U. N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a specific call for a technology facilitation mechanism, saying it would expedite development. Indeed, the idea of a TFM has clearly become a priority for the U. N. system overall in its efforts to boost the prospects of success in achieving the new SDGs, which will guide global development over the coming decade and a half.

The idea of a TFM first started to take formal shape last year, when Ambassador Guilherme de Aguiar Patriota of Brazil co-moderated two “structured dialogues” around the idea of technology transfer.

According to a document provided by the Brazilian delegation to the United Nations, “The thematic focus [of the TFM] aims to ensure that the multi-stakeholder forum brings together relevant actors from the same sector, in order to combine forces around scientific, technical and technological cooperation in specific areas, such as health, education, climate change, social inclusion, energy, etc.”

Given the likely adoption of SDG 11, the urban SDG, cities and human settlements would in theory be one of the themes addressed by the inter-agency task team and the multi-stakeholder forum. As Citiscope reported, the Brazilian Permanent Mission to the United Nations sponsored a side event at the High-Level Political Forum earlier this month, which highlighted the potential for “social technology” and tools such as urban indicators to achieve the SDGs.

“Harder” technology, meanwhile, could still lead to sticking points around intellectual property or other concerns. For instance, geospatial technology has also been cited as a potential vehicle for helping countries monitor progress toward many of the goals, the urban SDG among them.

The nascent language about the TFM refers only to “support[ing] the sustainable development goals”. However, those details do not yet specify whether this support would apply to achieving the goals, monitoring them or both.

Should the U. N. inter-agency task team and the multi-stakeholder forum include the SDG indicators in its mandate, geospatial technology could well be on the table. Experts in geospatial technology from the U. N. Statistics Division and European geospatial agencies affirmed that this is an interesting proposition, but said it’s still too early to offer comment.

More details on the TFM will start to become available once the new initiative makes its formal debut in September.

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