Global spending on science has risen sharply, with unprecedented dynamism in developing countries, particularly in Africa, but the United States and China still carry significant weight, according to UNESCO.
Between 2014 and 2018, investment in scientific research grew by 19% and the number of scientists by 13.7%.
This upward trend has been spurred by the Covid-19 crisis, UNESCO confirmed Friday in its five-yearly Science Report that follows the evolution of scientific public policy for nearly thirty years in more than 190 countries.
“Twenty years ago, countries still had to be convinced of the value of investing in science and technology. Today, almost everyone is embracing the idea that it is a way to advance the economy,” report coordinator Susan Schengens told AFP. ..
But this investment is “highly uneven”: the United States and China account for nearly two-thirds (63%) of global spending progress. Four out of five countries are lagging behind, spending less than 1% of their GDP on research.
Artificial intelligence and robotics are very dynamic, especially in “low middle income” countries, which contributed more than 25% of the 150,000 posts on the topic in 2019 (12.8% in 2015).
Some countries are “very ingenious, and have been able to innovate without much means in the realm of digital technologies,” says Susan Schengens.
During the pandemic, 13% of new technologies designed to deal with the virus were produced in Africa, despite the fact that the continent accounts for only 14% of the world’s population: virtual assistants, self-diagnostic tools, a tracking application …
In 2020, “we registered more than 700 innovation poles in Africa, compared to about 300 in 2015. The problem is that they are still very dependent on external financing,” adds the UNESCO official.
There is another problem: green energy attracts less. Research on carbon capture and storage produced only 2,500 articles in 2019. The topic is falling even further in Canada, France, Germany and the current leader, the United States.
In terms of photovoltaic, wind or biofuels, between 2012 and 2016, budgets made little progress worldwide, UNESCO estimates, which nonetheless praises the “homogeneity of development priorities in all countries”. In developing nations, some green energy research has exploded.
UNESCO calls for more investment and calls for “more coherence”. Executive Director, Audrey Azoulay, concludes that science “should be less uneven, more collaborative, and more open.”
© 2021 AFP
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