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Developing countries risk being left behind by green tech revolution, warns UN development body

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development urges action from governments and developed countries to ensure the developing world does not miss out on the opportunity to benefit economically from the green tech revolution

The green tech revolution risks passing developing countries by without urgent intervention by the developed world, a report by the United Nations Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has warned.

In its flagship Technology and innovation report 2023, UNCTAD said the economic inequalities that exist between developing and developed countries look set to worsen in years to come because the former will find it harder to tap into the market opportunities that exist around green technologies.

During a press conference to discuss the contents of its 236-page report, UNCTAD director Shamika Sirimanne said there was “enormous potential” for developing countries to benefit from the “green technological revolution” but there was a high risk that this opportunity could be squandered.

“There is enormous potential for developing countries… and I say potential because at the moment it remains at that level,” she said. 

“The market value of green technologies is projected to be about $2.1tn in 2030. This is up from $590bn in 2020. This is a huge jump... and when we dig deeper into these technologies, and who is benefiting from these technologies, it is very clear: it’s the developed countries that are seizing almost all the opportunities.”

To emphasise this point, she shared some export value figures for green technologies and detailed how these had increased over time, but insisted it was not the developing countries that were reaping the benefits of this trend.

“Let me give you one number: the total exports of green technologies increased from $60bn in 2018 to over $156bn in 2021. We don’t see that kind of improvement for developing countries,” she said.

This is because, during the same period, exports from developing nations grew from $57bn to $75bn. Meanwhile, in three years, developing countries’ share of global exports fell from over 48% to under 33%.

“We see both groups starting at the same starting line of $57bn, but for developing countries it has not jumped like it has jumped for developed countries,” she added.

Digging deeper into the report

The report details 17 technologies that are considered to be on the “leading edge of green innovation”, including artificial intelligence, biofuels, electric vehicles and others, and highlights their potential economic benefits and capabilities.

“These technologies have experienced tremendous growth in the past two decades: in 2020, the total market value was $1.5tn and by 2030 could reach $9.5tn. Around half of the latter is for the internet of things (IoT), which embraces a vast range of devices across multiple sectors,” the report stated.

However, action is needed to ensure developing countries are better positioned to make full use of these technologies so they can meet their own climate goals and capture some of the economic opportunity they represent.

“We are at the beginning of a technological revolution based on green technologies,” said UNCTAD secretary-general Rebeca Grynspan. “This new wave of technological change will have a formidable impact on the global economy. Developing countries must capture more of the value being created in this technological revolution to grow their economies.”

She added: “Missing this technological wave because of insufficient policy attention or lack of targeted investment in building capacities would have long-lasting negative implications.”

“The majority of global renewable energy capacity, technology and expertise is housed within a handful of countries. As the world transitions to a net-zero, resilient and just future, we cannot allow developing countries to fall behind”
UNCTAD report

To prevent this from happening, governments in developing countries must urgently revamp their industrial, innovation and energy policies to champion the use and development of green technologies, and channel more investment into this area, said UNCTAD.

The report also urged developed countries to provide a helping hand to their less well-off counterparts to ensure all nations can participate and take full economic advantage of the green tech revolution.

“The majority of global renewable energy capacity, technology and expertise is housed within a handful of countries. As the world transitions to a net-zero, resilient and just future, we cannot allow developing countries to fall behind,” the report stated.

It is also time for developed countries to step up and do their bit to level the playing field to ensure equitable access to renewable power and green technologies for all nations, the report added. 

“Together – with international financial institutions and the private sector – developed countries must level the playing field to fast-track renewable energy projects in developing countries. [Because] the fight against climate change is everybody’s fight,” it stated.

“By working in solidarity and creating the conditions for the renewables revolution, we can harness the full potential of a just transition for all countries, and pass on a greener, prosperous and more sustainable world to our children and grandchildren.”

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