Climate change and TRIPS

Intellectual property rights - and specifically how they are granted, regulated and exercised under the TRIPS Agreement ľ are relevant to how technologies related to climate change are developed and transferred around the world. International negotiations and policy debate on climate change have touched on several issues concerning intellectual property in general, and the TRIPS Agreement in particular. WTO members have also discussed this subject in TRIPS Council meetings.

Climate Change Convention

The main objective of the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is to achieve the stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.

The UNFCCC requires developed countries to "take all practicable steps to promote, facilitate and finance, as appropriate, the transfer of, or access to, environmentally sound technologies and know-how to other Parties, particularly developing country Parties, to enable them to implement the provisions of the Convention. In this process, the developed country Parties shall support the development and enhancement of endogenous capacities and technologies of developing country Parties. Other Parties and organizations in a position to do so may also assist in facilitating the transfer of such technologies” (Article 4).


The importance of climate change technologies is underscored in an observation by the UNFCCC Secretariat, that “Developing and transferring technologies to support national action on climate change has been an essential element from the beginning of the UNFCCC process.” In concluding the Paris Agreement in December 2015, the global community has raised its ambition level to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise in this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.  The UNFCCC Secretariat states that "to achieve the Paris Agreement, technology will play an even more important role in supporting countries to meet the challenge of climate change. The Technology Mechanism will be an important player in facilitating such efforts."

What is the role of IP in addressing the challenges of climate change?

The challenge of developing green or environmentally sound technologies, and of disseminating them to where they are needed, brings intellectual property into the frame. Incentives are needed for companies and institutions to invest in

research and development in the relevant technologies; a framework is needed to support the diffusion and transfer of technologies. A belief widely held by industry is that private investment into projects for developing green technology will only be forthcoming if policies and regulations, including on intellectual property, are clear and predictable. Industry points to the role of intellectual property in helping create technology partnerships and enabling complex green technologies from different sources to be combined.

The TRIPS Agreement is part of the global intellectual property system that aims to contribute to promoting technological innovation and its transfer and dissemination. Some developing country delegations negotiating climate change issues have argued that the “flexibilities” in the TRIPS Agreement are significant for access to green technology. These flexibilities are in various provisions that allow governments to relax some basic obligations of intellectual property protection, such as patent rights, under certain conditions. (One of the most widely debated flexibilities is “compulsory licensing” for pharmaceuticals, which is explained here, but there are a number of other possibilities.)

TRIPS and climate change

TRIPS Council

Ecuador first brought this subject to the TRIPS Council under “Other Business” in March 2013, when it submitted a document entitled “Contribution of IP to Facilitating the Transfer of Environmentally Rational Technology” (IP/C/W/585, 5 March 2013). Since then this issue has been discussed in a number of TRIPS Council meetings.

Extracts of minutes from the TRIPS Council meetings  on intellectual property and climate change:

June 2014 TRIPS Council
February 2014 TRIPS Council
October 2013 TRIPS Council
June 2013 TRIPS Council
March 2013 TRIPS Council
Search minutes of TRIPS Council meetings

Technical assistance and training

The WTO has covered climate change in some of its flagship technical assistance activities.

Specialised symposia for capacity building have included:

  • the WTO Regional Workshop on Intellectual Property and its Role in the Generation and Diffusion of Green Technologies, which was held in Hong Kong, China from 11 to 13 November 2014. The programme and presentations are here.
  • a 2011 regional capacity building workshop on “Promoting Green Innovation — The Role of Intellectual Property Rights in Technology Diffusion and Trade” under the Singapore-WTO Third Country Training Programme

Background information

WTO Secretariat paper on the relevance of the provisions of the TRIPS Agreement

WTO Secretariat contribution to UN's process on the Rio+20 declaration



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