Science spending gets Covid boost but global imbalance remains: Unesco

·2-min read

According to Unesco's latest report on the state of science worldwide, global expenditure on research has been given a remarkable boost by the coronavirus crisis, and the spending surge has been unprecedented in the developing world. But the United States and China remain the dominant forces.

In a report published on Friday, Unesco, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, says global spending on research and development rose by 19 percent between 2014 and 2018.

These reports are published every five years, and examine scientific research policy in more than 190 countries.

The upward tendency has clearly been boosted by the coronavirus crisis.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has exacted a heavy human and economic toll but it has also energised knowledge production systems,” Unesco concludes.

New money or diverted money?

According to project director, Susan Schneegans, “we have seen more investment channelled into the biomedical industry...what we don't know yet is how much is additional money for the research budget rather than coming from somewhere else.

"Twenty years ago, it was tough to convince governments to invest in science and technology," Schneegans continues. "Today, practically everyone has accepted that such investment is a way to boost economic growth."

But investment remains extremely unbalanced.

Between them, the US and China account for nearly two-thirds of the global increase in research spending. China alone is responsible for 44 percent of the global growth in research expenditure,

At the other end of the spectrum, four nations out of every five still consecrate less than 1 percent of their GDP to research. And the slower countries include Canada, Australia and India.

Digital tech booms, planet burns

Artificial intelligence and robotics are two key growth areas for research funding, the report says. And some countries are managing to make huge strides in digital technology, says Susan Schneegans, "without having to make massive investments".

Overall investment in green technologies appears to be declining, however, with Canada, France and Germany all reporting static or reduced investments in such sectors as wind and solar energy, carbon reduction and biofuels.

Once again, notes the Unesco report, some developing economies are showing the way forward in promoting research aimed at helping the planetary environment.

Finally, says Unesco dircetor general, Audrey Azoulay, "we need greater coherence...less inequality, more cooperation, more openness".

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