Technological innovation for climate change adaptation: A global empirical analysis based on patent data

14:00 Wednesday 29 May


Room S7


Jana Stoever (Germany) 1; Antoine Dechezleprêtre (Germany) 2; Matthieu Glachant (France) 3; Simon Stoever (France) 4

1 - Kiel University & MINES ParisTech; 2 - London School of Economics & OECD; 3 - MINES ParisTech & London School of Economics; 4 - MINES ParisTech

Adaptation technologies are widely considered one of the means to increase societies’ ability to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change, thereby reducing its vulnerability. However, empirical evidence on the pace of technological change in this area, where these technologies are invented and where they are transferred is lacking.

In this paper, we investigate the invention and international diffusion of new climate change adaptation technologies on a global level based on a newly constructed database of patent applications. We provide empirical evidence on the global distribution of adaptation technologies, at the invention and diffusion stages, and analyze the relationship between vulnerability and the availability of adaptation technologies at the country level.

Our dataset is drawn from the global PATSTAT database and includes over 100,000 adaptation-related technological inventions for the period 1995-2015, identified through a new classification scheme developed by patent examiners. Technology fields include coastal zones and river basins infrastructure; efficient water use and water supply; protection of existing infrastructure in buildings, energy production and transportation; adaptation technologies in agriculture, forestry, livestock or agroalimentary production; and human health protection. Each patent includes information on the geographic origin of inventors and on the countries in which patent protection is sought. Despite their limitations, patents are widely used as an indicator of innovation and technology transfer in the economics literature.

Our results show that the rate of innovation in adaptation technologies is disappointingly slow, a finding which stands in sharp contrast with the recent patenting boom in climate change mitigation technologies. Moreover, the invention of adaptation technologies takes place almost exclusively in high-income countries and only few technologies are transferred internationally. Specifically, by our measure, there is basically no transfer of new adaptation technologies to low-income countries. This last result is especially sobering in light of the adaptation gap, i.e. the fact that low income countries are most vulnerable to current and future impacts from climate change. We conclude that public policies are urgently needed to encourage the development of adaptation technologies and above all to enhance their international diffusion, in particular towards most vulnerable countries.