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Invention and Global Diffusion of Technologies for Climate Change Adaptation: A Patent Analysis

In addition to greenhouse gas mitigation efforts, the global economy will need adaptation technology to function in a changing climate. In this article, we use patent data to describe the global pace of innovation in climate adaptation technology. We identify the leading countries, track technology diffusion across borders, and relate innovation trends to adaptation needs. We find that innovation in adaptation technology has developed less rapidly than innovation in low-carbon technologies since 2005. This seems mainly due to the fact that adaptation is more important in sectors where the overall pace of innovation is slower than average, such as agriculture. Moreover, innovation is highly concentrated, with China, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and the United States accounting for nearly two-thirds of global patented inventions that are relevant to climate adaptation. Other economies could benefit through international technology transfer, but we find only limited technology diffusion through the patent system. International diffusion is particularly low in agriculture and flood protection, and there is virtually no transfer of the relevant patented knowledge to low-income countries. As a result, we find a striking mismatch between countries’ adaptation needs and technological availability.