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Innovation & Technology, Its Impact on Environment and Green Policy Initiatives in IP

10

NOV

2019

Scientific and technological innovations that adversely affect the environment, are viewed as unfavorable to sustainable development. International and national policy making bodies, activists and even young children[1] are advocating sustainable progress, which entails among other things, changing our mindset and adopting cleaner technology. Green technologies are sustainable and less harmful to the environment, and are preferred over technology and innovations that potentially result in mindless waste of resources in the name of progress and development.

“Green technologies as defined in Chapter 34 of agenda 21 (The United Nations Program of Action from Rio 1992) are environmentally sound technologies. Green technologies “protect the environment, are less polluting, use all resources in a more sustainable manner recycle more of their wastes and products and handle residual waste in a more acceptable manner than the technologies for which they were substitutes.” [2] Green technologies may not immediately lessen the impact of legacy technology on the environment, but hold out a hope in the long run, due to better utilization of resources.

The importance of innovative ideas as a solution to environment issues has been highlighted by UN Secretary General U Thant, at the 7th UN General Assembly held at New York in 1970. He wondered whether a universal historian on another planet would say about us: ‘With all their genius and skill, they ran out of foresight and air and food and water and ideas’. Discussed in this article, are some of the green technology initiatives that are already in place to facilitate and promote green ideas and innovations.

Policy makers at all levels, from international institutions to the grass-root local communities are now more mindful of sustainable development than ever before. One of the core international guidelines in this area is the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by the United Nations in 2015[3]. The Agenda has identified seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that are essential for building a better future for humankind and it provides a charter of targets to be achieved within a specific time frame. The goals of the Agenda are laudable, and the role of Intellectual Property (IP) and IP policies could be significant in making future development more all-inclusive.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has been termed by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) as “the most ambitious development agenda in human history” and has highlighted the role of intellectual property for enabling innovation and for adoption of technologies in the right direction as set out in the Agenda. Among the key SDG goals are, abolishing poverty, zero hunger, affordable and clean energy, clean water and sanitization, sustainable cities and communities and to undertake climate action. WIPO’s Development Agenda has identified SDG goal 9, “Industry, innovation and infrastructure” as the core goal for its mission to lead development of IP systems for the benefit of all. [4]

Universities around the world also play a role towards furthering SDG goals. Under the UN Academic Impact (UNAI) launched in 2010, there are more than 1,300 institutions of higher education in approximately 140 countries that are currently linked and seek to play a vital role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) adopted by the UN in 2015. In October 2018 UNAI announced it had designated 17 universities as SDG Hubs, modelling innovation engagement related to each of the 17 SDGs. For example, the University of Zurich was selected for SDG 13, Climate Action, and Kristu Jayanti College in Bangalore for SDG 1, no poverty. Amid the continued rise of global challenges, we need the kind of transformative energy the universities could offer through such collaboration. [5]

Dedicated intellectual property platforms with an aim to promote and facilitate the use of green technologies have been created by various organizations. WIPO GREEN[6]is one such program launched by WIPO in 2013 to encourage and accelerate green innovation. It facilitates dissemination of green technologies to areas where it is needed. Under the WIPO GREEN platform, apart from encouraging the speed up the “greening” of the global economy, a strategic plan has been drawn up[7] for encouraging public private partnership to further its goal to increase the network of WIPO GREEN users, partners, and supporters. Initiatives such as WIPO GREEN seek to collectively leverage the power and resources of the business community and to demonstrate that IP and innovation are an important part of the solution.

Other institutional initiatives in this area, include the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) jointly with the European Commission that has encouraged “Eco-innovation”. This joint co-operation between UNEP and the Directorate General for the Environment of the European Commission seeks to disseminate eco-innovative practices in emerging and developing economies. Its publications provide examples of businesses and organizations that have adopted and used of green technologies and have gained from the use such technology. [8]

In India, there are several initiatives by the government and private include, various climate oriented action reforms and measures to encourage eco-innovation. Some platforms created to facilitate innovations are: Small Business Innovation Research Initiative (SBIRI) launched by Department of Biotechnology (DBT) in 2005, which supports early stage, pre proof of concept research in biotechnology by the industry and late stage development and commercialization of new technologies particularly those lined to societal needs in healthcare, food and nutrition, agriculture and other sectors. The Technopreneur Promotion Programme, promoted by DISR supports individual innovators. The programme entails development of an original idea, invention, know-how into working prototype / process and promotes novel delivery models to take innovations to rural India.[9]

Globally, several industries are quietly and successfully introducing green and sustainable solutions in many areas[10]. The adoption of green solutions abound in the many areas like infrastructure, transportation industry, textile industry, power generation, computers, information technology and even the gaming industry is going green with reduced plastic packaging and making game devices more energy efficient to incorporating environmental themes into the games.[11]

Use of innovations and technology has immensely contributed to improvements in agriculture methods and food production in the past. The use of selection breeding techniques by farmers and scientists to improve yields and disease resistance has create a more resilient, productive and sustainable food system. [12] Climate change is likely to bring in more demands on how food is grown, and less people are likely to opt for work in farming in the coming days.

Return to old methods of organic farming and staving off use of chemicals in farming are being favored. However, for better quality and yields, agriculture may have to adopt other newer technology. Adopting sophisticated technologies such as robots, drones, temperature and moisture sensors, imagining and GPS may prove to be beneficial for precision technology-based agriculture. Use of such advance technology and the use of “big data” has made agriculture techniques more efficient, safer and environmental friendly. Other newer techniques of vertical farming, modern greenhouse practices, use of artificial intelligence, driverless tractors, climate-controlled warehouses, genetically modified seeds to grow with less water are likely to change farming methods.

WIPO has emphasized that: “climate change is something we experience as community members, concerned parents, and individuals relying on a complex, interwoven web of natural systems. Technological innovation is part of the solution, and it’s also the part that WIPO can most directly encourage, so we’re leveraging this natural strength.

A balanced international IP system that encourages and enables innovation is key to unleashing the creativity needed to develop cleaner, greener technologies that will allow us to do more with less—whether it’s more efficient energy production and use, new forms of green transportation, or more sustainable, environmentally friendly forms of agriculture and forestry.” While innovation is essential to achieving the goals of a greener tomorrow, the emphasis on the responsible use of natural resources cannot be underestimated. To attain the envisaged goals of sustainable development by the year 2030, policy making and implementation ought to keep in mind that indiscriminate use of resources, unsustainable consumption lifestyle patterns has resulted in the present climate crisis[13]. Sustainable development also means that progress and development ought to be inclusive and should attempt to bridge the technology divide. Towards this end, importance of balanced IP policies cannot be underestimated to achieve the envisaged goals of sustainable development.

Mahatma Gandhi’s observation about adoption of technology are as relevant in the present time as it was during his time. Gandhi said, if making of a product depletes natural resources without ways to replenish them or when the production process pollutes the environment and damages rich ecology , then that is not the way forward, however “advanced” the technology might be, because, the means are as important as the end. [14]“o


[1] Teen environmental activist Greta Thunberg spoke at the United Nations about climate change, accusing world leaders of inaction and half-measures, See https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/read-greta-thunberg-s-full-speech-united-nations-climate-action-n1057861

[3] The sustainable development goals were set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 for the year 2030.

[4] https://www.wipo.int/sdgs/en/story.html

[5] See “Compassionate Universities Hold Out Hope” by Daisaku Ikeda, President of Soka Gakkai International and founder of the Soka Education System, Times of India September 25, 2019.

[6] WIPO GREEN is an initiative for the transition towards a green economy and is an online platform to support green technology exchange that connects providers and seekers of environmentally friendly technologies. it is a global market place that promotes green technology innovation and diffusion, particularly in developing countries. https://www3.wipo.int/wipogreen/en

[7] The WIPO GREEN Strategic Plan 2019 – 2023, launched in February 2019 sets forth clear goals and objectives for the public-private partnership, providing a roadmap that will enable WIPO GREEN to advance its mission: to provide an online platform for technology exchange that will contribute to the accelerated adaption, adoption, and deployment of green technology solutions. https://www3.wipo.int/wipogreen/en

[8] Examples from companies that have integrated eco-innovation at the core of their business strategy and that business benefits from the innovation including: increased market access, value creation and increased operational resilience. https://www.greengrowthknowledge.org/resource/business-case-eco-innovation

[9] RIS Discussion Papers “An Assessment of India’s Innovation Policies” by Biswajit Dhar and Sabyasachi Saha , http://www.ris.org.in/sites/default/files/Publication

[10] Article in The Guardian: “Why industry is going green on the quite” https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/sep/08/producers-keep-sustainable-practices-secret

[11] See Article in Times of India September 25, 2019:

“Climate-friendly changes coming to your gaming console”

[12] Norman Earnest Borlaug, called father of the Green Revolution led initiatives worldwide that contributed to the extensive increases in agricultural production.

[13] See Dr. Harsh Vardhan’s, statement at COP-23 (Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India), at Bonn November 2017

[14] Article by Ms. Aruna Srinivasan “Was Gandhiji Against Science & Technology”, Times of India Oct 3, 2019 . Gandhiji final word on technology: “whenever you are in doubt … apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and weakest person who you may have seen and ask yourself, if the steps you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny?

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