Climate change, intellectual property rights and global justice

In Thomas Potthast & Simon Meisch (eds.), Climate Change and Sustainable Development: Ethical Perspectives on Land Use and Food Production. Wageningen Academic Publishers. pp. 75-79 (2012)
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International negotiations on anthropogenic climate change are far from running smoothly. Opinions are deeply divided on what are the respective responsibilities of developed and developing countries with regard to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the alleviation of the negative effects of global warming. A major bone of contention concerns the role of intellectual property rights (especially patents) in the development and diffusion of climate-friendly technologies. While developing countries consider IPRs as a formidable barrier to the rapid transfer and the widest possible diffusion of such technologies, developed countries, by contrast, see IPRs as a vital prerequisite for the development and transfer of these same technologies. This debate shows some similarity with the earlier debate on patents and access to lifesaving medicines, although there are also important differences. In our contribution we will explore both the analogies and the differences with this earlier debate. To provide a focus for our discussion, we will examine whether something similar to the Health Impact Fund (HIF), which has been proposed by philosopher Thomas Pogge as a reasonable solution to the ethical dilemmas of protection and accessibility in the field of pharmaceuticals, can also be elaborated for the development and diffusion of climate-friendly technologies. Thus the central question is how an analogous ‘Climate Impact Fund’ would look like and how it would work. This whole exercise will also yield a normative yardstick for assessing the various designs for a Green Climate Fund or a Technology Mechanism that are currently on the table of the international climate negotiations.



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Cristian Timmermann
Universität Augsburg

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