Clean green technologies are at the center of the many special reports leading to Rio+20. Understandably, governments have focused on access to “know-how.” Since 1992, however, costly, resource-wasting experience has taught that “know-how” must be accompanied with “know-what” – assessment of the technology choices available – and “know-why” – a participatory analysis of socioeconomic and environmental needs a technology is to address.
The Case for Technology Assessment
Rio +20 can call for a UN-level technology facility (either combining or separately addressing the need for technology transfer and technology assessment), the details of which can be scheduled for final negotiation in the follow-through to the conference. Grounded in the Precautionary Principle, the facility would have the institutional capacity to identify and monitor significant technologies, including an evaluation of the technologies’ social, economic, cultural, health and environmental implications. Assessments would be completed before a new technology is released.
The Case for Technology Assessment
It's not just that we are facing "something new", we are facing "something else". The speed, breadth and depth of technological change is out-pacing and out-scoping policymakers. Since 1992, the convergence of technologies (living and inert) at the atomic - or nano - scale is adding new dimensions to the nature of technological transformation. Governments need global tools to respond to "something else". Find in this briefing ten technology leaps making the case for prioritizing Technology Assessment at the UN.
So-called “green technology” is now a major feature of the Rio+20 “green economy” vision. G-77 countries are, understandably, focused on facilitated access to useful technologies that can contribute to sustainable development; the best way to make sure the right technologies are transferred to the right places in the right way is to subject them to meaningful assessment. An emphasis on the positive potential of new technologies requires a concomitant emphasis on a strengthened global, regional and national capacity to monitor and assess technologies. Anything less will incite distrust and invite disaster. Powerful new technologies (such as nanotechnology, synthetic biology and geoengineering) are being proposed and promoted without prior evaluation and no regulation. If technology assessment is deemed too costly or time-consuming, we are likely to find that the cost of not assessing technologies is even greater.
The case for Technology Assessment
Does establishing a UN facility for technology assessment politicize science? Some agencies and treaties have subsidiary scientific bodies and some of these have been accused of allowing governments to interfere in their scientific work. However, one of the biggest changes since the 1992 Earth Summit has been the transformation of publicly-funded science to work in the service of private industry.
The Case for Technology Assessment
Although Rio+20 negotiators are discussing marine applications of geoengineering (so-called “ocean fertilization”) in the context of climate change and technological “quick fixes,” the wider issues of geoengineering, including so-called solar radiation management, are not being discussed. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity established a de facto moratorium on all forms of geoengineering in 2010. Nevertheless, some governments are continuing to look toward technological methods of blocking or reflecting sunlight and other planetary system adjustments. Rio+20 should make a firm statement banning geoengineering to prevent a handful of countries -- a new “coalition of the willing” from taking the Earth’s thermostat into their own hands.
Synthetic Biology's Impact on livelihoods and Sustainable USe of Biodiversity
Due to problems with scale-up, some synthetic biology companies are shifting focus away from biofuels to high-value / low-volume products – especially compounds found in plants (e.g., essential oils, flavours, fragrances, colourants and pharmaceuticals) – which are traditionally cultivated by farming communities in the global South.
If commercially viable, synthetic biology’s patented organisms have the potential to de-stabilize natural product markets, disrupt trade and eliminate jobs.with far-reaching impacts on agricultural economies.
The Case for Technology Assessment
International efforts to address the food, energy and climate crises give technology a central role to play. While some technologies may offer potential solutions to specific problems, decades of accelerating technological development and deployment have done little to mitigate climate change, and, in many cases, have made problems worse.
Now, new high-risk technologies, ranging from the very small (synthetic biology, genomics, nanotechnology) to the very large (geoengineering), are rapidly developing. Their promoters promise that these technologies are key to solving climate change,
world hunger, energy shortages and biodiversity loss. The precautionary principle and social and economic impacts are often ignored in the rush to deploy the latest technofix, marketed as socially useful and cutting edge, such as “climate-smart agriculture” or “next-generation biofuels.” Without the strict application of the precautionary principle, and a transparent and participatory form of technology assessment, new technologies could wreak even more havoc on a fragile planet that is already under immense strain due to reckless and unsustainable forms of production that serve the few at the expense of the many.
This submission examines the potential impacts of synthetic biology and its relevance to
the three objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity: the conservation and
sustainable use of biodiversity and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from
the utilization of genetic resources.
Synthetic biology broadly refers to the use of computer-assisted, biological engineering to
design and construct new synthetic biological parts, devices and systems that do not exist
in nature and the redesign of existing biological organisms. While synthetic biology
incorporates the techniques of molecular biology, it differs from recombinant DNA
SBSTTA must not defer its consideration of synthetic biology as a new and emerging issue
requiring governance. Synthetic biology is a field of rapidly growing industrial interest. A
handful of products have reached the commercial market and others are in pre-commercial
stages. OECD countries currently dominate synthetic biology R&D and deployment, but
basic and applied research is taking place in at least 36 countries worldwide. Many of the
world’s largest energy, chemical, forestry, pharmaceutical, food and agribusiness
corporations are investing in synthetic biology R&D. Current applications of synthetic
biology focus on three major product areas that depend heavily on biomass feedstock
production processes: 1) biofuels; 2) specialty and bulk chemicals; 3) natural product
Tackling Technology: Three Proposals for Rio
he most dramatic technological transformation in history – involving information technologies, biotechnologies and engineering – has occurred since the first Rio Earth Summit in 1992; during the same period, however, governments have systematically downsized or eliminated their capacity to understand science and monitor technologies. While technology has thus far played an extraordinarily prominent role in preparatory documents for Rio+20, technology’s potential contribution to sustainable development and/or new Green Economies cannot be realized as long as the world lacks trusted and transparent mechanisms – at global, regional and national levels – for technology evaluation. The absence of such mechanisms incites distrust and invites disaster.
...in collaboration with the Heinrich Böll Foundation
The notion of a "great green technological transformation" enabling a "green economy" is now being widely promoted as the key to our planet's survival. The ultimate goal is to substitute the extravtion and refining of petroleum with the transformation of biomass. Who will be in control of the future green economy?
In this joint report, the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the ETC Group reveal the new "Biomassters" and argue that in the absence of effective and socially responsive governance, the green economy will perpetuate the greed economy.
Mega Foundations, Agribusiness Muscle In On Public Goods
Big foundations like Gates and giant agribusinesses like Syngenta are taking an interest in multilateral public institutions committed to ending hunger. The international agencies are having trouble with the “public/private” boundaries. It’s time to evaluate them all.
ETC Group dedicates this Communiqué to the memory of Dr. Erna Bennett who passed away at the beginning of January 2012.
Issue: Three recent incidents show that the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) seem to be redacting their reports, or opening their gene banks and looking the other way as the private sector overrides governments and farmers to commandeer agricultural policy and practice. Private foundations and OECD states are causing public institutions to lose their focus on “public goods.”
Corporate Concentration in the Life Industries
Will a “great green technological transformation” bring about a “green economy” to help us save ourselves and our planet? Or will it serve those already controlling today’s “greed economy?” In its new report, ETC Group provides a snapshot of the state of corporate control in more than a dozen economic sectors relevant to the green economy (including seeds, energy, bioinformatics and food) and argues that in the absence of effective and socially responsive governance, the green economy will spur even greater convergence of corporate power and unleash the most massive resource grab in more than 500 years.
What you will find in the 'Who Will Control the Green Economy?' Report
- Naming The Green Economy's “One Percent”
'Who Will Control the Green Economy?' provides hard data on the largest and most powerful corporate players controlling 25 sectors of the 'real economy'. This is the only freely available report to assemble top 10 listings of companies (by market share) from 18 major economic sectors relevant to the Green Economy. These lists include the top 10 players in Water, Energy, Seeds, Fishing and Aquaculture, Food Retail and Processing, Chemicals, Fertilizer, Pesticides, Mining, Pharmaceuticals, Biotech, the Grain Trade and more. The report also identifies the leading players in a handful of new and emerging industrial sectors including Synthetic Biology, Big Data, Seaweed and Algae production and Livestock Genetics (pp.1-2).
New Book from ETC Group in collaboration with Pambazuka News
Earth Grab - Geopiracy, the New Biomassters and Capturing Climate Genes' - essential, cutting-edge climate science in everyday language - published this week (27 October 2011). The authors reveal information that the large corporations who profit from climate change do not want the public to know.
'Earth Grab' analyses how Northern governments and corporations are cynically using concerns about the ecological and climate crisis to propose geoengineering 'quick fixes'. These threaten to wreak havoc on ecosystems, with disastrous impacts on the people of the global South. As calls for a 'greener' economy mount and oil prices escalate, corporations are seeking to switch from oil-based to plant-based energy.
minent environmentalist Vandana Shiva, founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, writes in her foreword that this research 'pulls back the curtain on disturbing technological and corporate trends that are already reshaping our world and that will become crucial battlegrounds for civil society in the years ahead'.
The book has already captured the attention of writer Naomi Klein, who writes that this 'crucial book reveals ... Indispensable research for those with their eyes wide open'. Campaigner George Monbiot adds that its exploration of 'three crucial issues which will come to dominate environmental and human rights debates in the coming years make it an essential resource for anyone trying to keep up with the times'.
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