As Climate Crises Loom, WTO Head Urges Developing Countries to Prepare to Use TRIPS Flexibilities 
Director Generals Ngozi Okonjo Iweala (WTO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (WHO) and Daren Tang (WIPO) at their trilateral meeting on climate and health.

In anticipation of coming climate crises, developing countries should put in place “effective mechanisms in their domestic laws” that allow them to use the TRIPS flexibilities, asserted Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Tuesday.

TRIPS flexibility refers to space allowed in the WTO’s Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) Agreement for governments to relax patent rights to address public health needs, including issuing compulsory licenses to make medicines without the permission of a patent-holder.

“Let me emphasise that many developing country governments have not yet put in place the legal mechanisms or tools that allow the use of existing or future flexibilities. With the impact of climate change on health becoming more evident, this is the time to get ready,” Iweala told the trilateral climate change and health symposium convened by the WTO, World Health Organization (WHO) and World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).


The three bodies have agreed to step up their support for developing countries to “analyse their options to use TRIPS flexibilities” and update their laws to enable the use of these flexibilities alongside “enhanced procurement programmes”, she added.

“As you all know, at the WTO we have also been grappling with sensitive issues around intellectual property (IP) and technology transfer,” added Iweala.

“To solve problems in public health and the climate, breakthrough technologies must be incentivized, invented, developed and widely diffused. Innovation and access must go together. That is why the IP system was designed with ideas of balance and public interest at its core. Governments have legitimate scope to intervene when necessary to protect the public interest.”

Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO)

Fossil fuel addiction ‘an act of self-harm’

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus appealed for both “advanced technologies” and “trade arrangements” to protect lives in the event of climate crises.

“In the same way that we have been fighting for global equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, we need to ensure that intellectual property and trade rules are not a barrier to accessing greener and healthier technologies,” said Tedros.

“The world’s addiction to fossil fuels is an act of self-harm,” he added. “This addiction not only drives the climate crisis but is a major contributor to air pollution, which kills almost seven million people every year – a death every five seconds. The health community has a critical role to play in protecting people from the escalating climate threats to health.”

However, countries had the responsibility to build health systems that can both withstand climate shocks and reduce their carbon footprint, added Tedros, referring to the WHO’s framework for building climate-resilient and low carbon health systems released last week. 

WIPO Director General Daren Tang

Warning that Africa would bear the brunt of climate-related deaths, projected to account for over half these deaths by 2050, WIPO Director-General Daren Tang said that “this cannot be our future”.

Tang added that, while some saw IP rights as an obstacle to achieving a better, fairer and more sustainable world, WIPO hopes that IP will “unleash the innovative and creative potential of our people around the world” to realise the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Tang also referred to WIPO Green, a free online platform matching providers and seekers of green technologies around the world to address climate change.

“In the past 10 years, this platform has grown to cover 130,000 technologies from over 140 countries, becoming the biggest green tech exchange matching platform that the UN offers today,” said Tang. 

However, the challenge is to ensure that these technologies “create impact on the ground”, said Tang. 

“WIPO will continue to build innovation and tech transfer capabilities in member states so that tech transfer can lead to actual deployment on the ground, and homegrown innovation solutions can move from mind to market and be deployed and diffused across the world.”

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