An end to an international innovation system that feeds wasteful consumption and perpetuates inequality is required to avoid catastrophic climate change.
New report Technology Justice: A Call to Action acknowledges that technology has played a key part in human development and will be essential to ending extreme poverty in a sustainable way.
However, billions of people are still without access to the most basic technologies, such as those providing electricity, running water and medicine, contributing to millions of premature deaths every year.
This inequality highlights that systems for development and sharing of technological innovation are broken and do not provide technologies most needed by humanity.
Report author Amber Meikle, Practical Action’s senior policy advisor for Technology Justice, said: “Today’s innovation is often driven only by profit, leading us to this world where a relatively small number of people benefit from the vast majority of innovation, and the impacts on the environment are considered too little and too late.
“Every day Practical Action staff work with poor and marginalised communities whose lives could be utterly transformed if a fairer share of innovation efforts were focussed on meeting their basic needs: a safe supply of drinking water, access to electricity and basic medicine, or clean fuel for cooking.
“Moreover, many have to cope with the effects of a changing climate which causes more flooding, drought, freezing or searing temperatures. With such limited access to fossil-fuel based technologies, the poorest people on the planet contribute least to global warming, but they are the people whose lives are most affected by it.
“Practical Action is trying to reverse this injustice by working to support local innovation and demonstrating what a transformative effect access to essential technology can have.
“But a much more radical shift is needed: an overhaul of the innovation system to deliver technologies to meet the most pressing needs of humanity and the planet. We cannot do this alone.”
Key issues outlined in Technology Justice: A Call to Action are:
- Fossil fuels are still subsidised to the tune of $5tn a year
- 1.3 billion people still have no access to reliable electricity
- Half the world’s population still cook over open fires causing 4.3 million premature deaths a year
- Nine tenths of medical research and development focuses on health problems of the richest ten per cent, leaving a huge gap in research into those affecting the Global South.
The document calls for:
Reform of patent laws which are outdated and, in some cases, become an obstacle rather than an incentive to creating technologies which can benefit all.
Tax breaks and incentives for research and development which will benefit the poorest people
Greater equality in resources available to agricultural research and development in the global north and south
Incentives for shared risks and benefits of new innovation and technologies.
Amber said: “We must recognise that it’s not just companies like Apple that innovate. The state is often the one that makes the high-risk investments in cutting-edge research. Take the iPhone – it is almost entirely dependent on technologies developed through government funded programmes including the internet, GPS, touch-screens and Siri. The state should recoup more of this investment and reinvest in further innovation for social and environmental good, instead of providing the high risk investments for huge corporations without fully profiting from it.
“We need global targets and commitments for research and development. Subsidies supporting technologies – such as fossil fuels – that imperil our planet must be removed. We need investment in the accelerated development of sustainable and affordable alternatives and the strengthening of innovation systems in the developing world so that they respond to local needs.
“The situation must change. We are calling you all to action. We want to join with others to each play our part in reclaiming technology for people and the planet.”
Publication of the call to action will be followed by a Technology Justice forum, to be held at The University of Edinburgh on March 11 and 12.
Participants will be asked to form alliances and develop a strategy for bringing about change at both a national and global level.