OECD report indicates geopolitics is shaping global science, tech and innovation policies

29 March 2023 | Muriel Cozier

Science policy must be ‘well prepared to respond to known risks and unknown uncertainties.’

Governments must be more ambitious and act with greater urgency in science, technology and innovation (STI) policies to make the rapid transformations needed in the areas such as energy, agrifood and mobility, according to the OECD Science, Technology and Innovation Outlook 2023: Enabling Transitions on Times of Disruption report.

The report, which is produced every two years, aims to inform policy makers and analysts on recent and future changes in global STI patterns and their potential implications on, and for, national and international STI policies. The report provides comparative analysis of new policies being used in OECD countries and in a number of major emerging economies to boost the contribution of STI to growth and to global and social changes.

The report highlights that as well as climate change, Covid-19, and their impacts on the world, STI is having to address growing geopolitical tensions. ‘Taken together, these have contributed to a growing “securitisation” of STI policy,’ the report says. ‘As the pandemic has shown, STI is essential to building capacity for resilience and adaptation to shocks.’ The report stresses that in order to adequately respond, STI policy must be well prepared to respond both to known risks and ‘unknown uncertainties’.

With the sustainability transition reliant on STI, the report says that governments need to create the right environment for innovation: ‘[Governments] need to design policy portfolios that enable transformative innovation and new markets to emerge, challenge existing fossil-based systems and create windows of opportunity for low-carbon technologies to break through. Larger investments and greater directionality in research and innovation activities are needed, for example, by using mission-oriented innovation policies to help direct and compress the innovation cycle for low-carbon technologies,’ the report says.

While the report focuses on the importance of innovation and its necessity for the transition to sustainable economies, it sounds a warning on the management of emerging technologies. Citing the disparity in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines between developed and developing nations or advances in technologies such as facial recognition, the report asserts that ‘rapid technological change can carry negative consequences and risks for individuals, societies and environment. Relevant threats include social disruption, various kinds of inequity, privacy and human rights [impacts].’ Frameworks should be put in place to anticipate such risks, the report said.

Taking on the challenge to use science, technology and innovation to tackle societal problems, five university teams battled it out last week in the 2023 BrightSCIdea Challenge final. Find out which team walked away with the £5,000 prize money here.

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