Abstract While international cooperation to facilitate the transfer and uptake of climate technologies in developing countries is an ongoing part of climate policy conversations, international collaborative R&D has received comparatively little attention. Collaborative R&D, however, could be a potentially important contributor to facilitating the transfer and uptake of climate technologies in developing countries. But the complexities of international collaborative R&D options and their distributional consequences have been given little attention to date. This paper develops a systematic approach to informing future empirical research and policy analysis on this topic. Building on insights from relevant literature and analysis of empirical data based on a sample of existing international climate technology R&D initiatives, three contributions are made. First, the paper analyses the coverage of existing collaborative R&D efforts in relation to climate technologies, highlighting some important concerns, such as a lack of coverage of lower-income countries or adaptation technologies. Second, it provides a starting point for further systematic research and policy thinking via the development of a taxonomic approach for analysing collaborative designs. Finally, it matches characteristics of R&D collaborations against developing countries’ climate technology needs to provide policymakers with guidance on how to Configure R&D collaborations to meet these needs.