1. Science, technology and innovation policy in times of global crises

Longstanding trends and recent disruptions have created a new operating environment for STI policy. Climate change and its impacts, along with the fast pace of change implied by the digital transformation, are driving STI agendas in what is often termed the “twin transition”. At the same time, the two most salient disruptions of the last couple of years – the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine – have had far-reaching, cascading effects, including on STI. During the pandemic, STI played prominent roles in understanding the virus and its transmission and designing appropriate countermeasures, notably by developing highly effective vaccines over a very short period. The pandemic has also impacted STI, for example, by introducing greater flexibility in R&D funding and boosting open science. Beyond the impacts of advanced weaponry, the role of STI in the war in Ukraine is less prominent or clear-cut. However, the war and ensuing energy crisis have highlighted the need to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy sources. Achieving this objective will depend on the rapid deployment of existing or close-to-market green innovation solutions to improve energy security in the short term, as well as boosting investments in R&D to underpin longer-term transitions to net-zero (see Chapter 3).

The significant uncertainty arising from the war in Ukraine adds to the challenges already facing policy makers owing to unexpectedly strong inflationary pressures and imbalances related to the pandemic. In many economies, inflation in 2022 has been at its highest since the 1980s, while rising debt service burdens are also likely to compound challenges for public finances. With recent indicators taking a turn for the worse, the global economic outlook has darkened, with global growth projected to slow even further in 2023 (OECD, 2022[1]).

The chapter begins by discussing two recent disruptions – COVID-19 and Russia’s war against Ukraine – and their impacts on STI. Both the pandemic and Russia’s aggression have required large-scale government interventions to stave off economic crises. The pandemic resulted in the first recession where R&D expenditures have not fallen, largely because of their significant roles in tackling the crisis. It is too early to tell what impact Russia’s aggression will have on R&D expenditures, but there is the possibility their growth will falter in the event of a deep or protracted economic slowdown. The chapter then describes how these disruptions, together with the climate crisis and anxieties related to technological change, have brought risk, uncertainty and resilience to the fore as conditions and concerns for STI policy. They have contributed to a growing “securitisation”1 of STI policies, where economic competitiveness rationales for policy intervention are now combined with rationales emphasising national security, sustainability transitions and (to a much lesser extent) inclusion. The final section draws some lessons and presents a brief outlook for STI policy in times of global crisis.

At the time of publication of the last edition of the STI Outlook (OECD, 2021[2]), the COVID-19 pandemic was less than a year old, but the science and innovation community had already responded decisively and at pace. Through multibillion-dollar public and private investments, the first vaccines had already been approved and tens of thousands of scientific articles had been openly published, many reporting on research performed by international teams. At the same time, COVID-19 restrictions were still largely in force, with more to follow during 2021-22. These were having a range of negative impacts, both directly on STI activities and indirectly through their wider social and economic effects, although these were difficult to measure at the time. Two years on, it is possible to get a better sense of the pandemic’s effects on STI activities and how STI responded. Chapter 4 provides an overview of how science was mobilised to respond to the pandemic. This chapter focuses on selected key indicators of R&D expenditures and vaccine developments.

OECD gross domestic expenditure on R&D (GERD) grew 2.1% between 2019-20 (Figure 1.1). While this was a sharp slowdown compared to previous years (when it was growing at around 5% annually), it was nevertheless exceptional, marking the first time a global recession has not translated into falls in R&D expenditures. This reflects how investments in R&D were an integral part of the response to the pandemic (OECD, 2022[3]). Growth in R&D in the OECD area in 2020 was primarily driven by the United States (+6.4%), in contrast to declining R&D expenditures in Germany (-4.9%)2 and Japan (-2.7%). Provisional data for 2021 show that OECD growth rates bounced back to pre-pandemic levels, with OECD GERD growing 4.5% between 2020-21. This reflects a recovery in R&D expenditures in many countries that had experienced a decline in the previous year.

Across the OECD, Israel (5.6%) and Korea (4.9%) continued to display the highest levels of R&D intensity as a percentage of GDP (Figure 1.2). R&D intensity in the OECD area climbed from 2.5% in 2019 to 2.7% of GDP in 2021. Over the same period, R&D intensity as a percentage of GDP increased in the European Union (EU27) area from 2.1% to 2.2%, in the United States from 3.2% to 3.5%, and in the People’s Republic of China (hereafter China) from 2.2% to 2.4%.

Since the private sector accounts for more than two-thirds of R&D expenditures in the OECD, a country’s R&D intensity is heavily influenced by the R&D activities of its firms. The OECD Short-term Financial Tracker of Business R&D (SwiFTBeRD) dashboard delivers the timeliest possible insights on company-specific and sectoral quarterly and annual R&D data reported by several of the world’s major R&D investors.3 Analysis of R&D expense growth in 2021 confirms widespread improvement across the board for most companies following the initial pandemic shock in 2020 (Figure 1.3). Software, computer & electronic technology firms and (to a lesser extent) pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms continued to drive R&D expense growth, while automotive and aerospace (along with other industries) were still lagging in 2021. In the first half of 2022, year-on-year aggregate R&D expense growth in the software, computer & electronic technology sector remained at around 10%, while it was almost flat in other sectors. Given these trends, as Figure 1.3 shows, R&D expenses in the software, computer & electronic technology sector were more than 50% higher in mid-2022 as compared to the start of 2018. In the automotive and aerospace sector and other industries, by contrast, R&D expenses had yet to recover to their 2018 levels.

Governments launched hundreds of STI policy initiatives in the first year of the pandemic to develop research and innovation solutions. In the first six months of the pandemic, national public research-funding agencies and organisations announced they were providing more than USD 5 billion for public research-funding schemes targeting COVID-19 (OECD, 2021[2]). Box 1.1 provides a breakdown of the types of policy initiatives that were used.

The research community translated much of this COVID-19 policy support into funded research projects covering a variety of topics. The UK Collaborative on Development Research (UKCDR)4/GloPID-R COVID-19 Research Project Tracker has collected data on almost 18 000 research projects with funding of over USD 8 billion between the start of the pandemic and September 2022.5 The tracker maps research projects against the priorities identified in the World Health Organization (WHO) Coordinated Global Research Roadmap for COVID-19 (WHO, 2020[5]) to help funders and researchers prioritise resources for underfunded areas with the greatest research need. This mapping against the WHO priorities shows that 4% of research projects in the database target vaccine R&D yet account for 25% of the awarded funding, while 36% target the social sciences yet account for 16% of funding (Figure 1.6).6

Such comparisons should be interpreted with care. For example, it is well established that social science projects typically rely on less funding than their science, technology and engineering counterparts. There also exists evidence that the social sciences and humanities were less well organised than their biomedical counterparts to respond effectively to the demands of a complex crisis like COVID-19 (see Chapter 4 for further discussion on the subject). The real outlier, however, is the scale of support for vaccine research, as compared, for example, to research on candidate therapeutics, which accounted for around 12% of total funding (approximately USD 1 billion) and 10% of research projects, with an average project size of approximately half a million USD. This reflects the high priority given to the development and availability of vaccines, particularly in the early phases of the pandemic, where infection prevention was greatly emphasised. Ongoing OECD work on mapping government R&D project funding for COVID-19 provides a picture consistent with these findings (OECD, forthcoming[6]).

The 2021 edition of the STI Outlook (OECD, 2021[2]) highlighted the rapid and massive response of the research community to the pandemic, as measured by bibliometric analysis and the progress of clinical trials. Already at the time of writing in late 2020, the first COVID-19 vaccines were in the final stages of approval and about to be launched. Two years on, several effective vaccines have been developed using different technologies (Figure 1.7) and tested and rolled out in record time. This is an outstanding demonstration of what can be done when academia and industry effectively combine resources (see Chapter 4). The creation of different – and often novel – vaccine platforms is also a welcome development that could have far-reaching benefits across medical science. It is estimated that COVID-19 vaccines had saved 20 million lives by mid-2022, although this number could have been greater if vaccine coverage had been more equitable (Watson et al., 2022[7]). The earliest COVID-19 vaccines continue to dominate the marketplace and there are now fewer new vaccines under development than in the first half of 2022 (Figure 1.8).

Figure 1.9 shows the number of COVID-19-related clinical studies, as registered with the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) by September 2022. Panel A shows that the United States, followed by China, have by far the most COVID-19 vaccine clinical studies. Between them, they have more vaccine studies than the next nine ranked countries combined. Panel B shows the United States to be an outlier on COVID-19 drug studies with more than 650 studies, compared to 164 studies for second-placed Brazil. This concentration is partly explained by country size, but the data also show that clinical trials have been carried out widely across the world. A criticism of the biomedical response to COVID-19 is that there were too many uncoordinated clinical studies and too few clinical trials with sufficient participants to draw statistically significant conclusions (see Chapter 4). So the large number of clinical studies shown in Figure 1.9 should not necessarily be interpreted as a wholly positive development.

At the same time, vaccine competition between governments has been rife and influenced in part by geopolitical tensions, creating a global patchwork of vaccine approvals. By mid-2022, China had approved eight vaccines, all but one developed domestically; Russia had approved six vaccines, all developed domestically; and France, Japan and the United States had yet to approve any Chinese, Indian or Russian-developed vaccines (Table 1.1). The dominant vaccine narrative has been compared to the historical space or nuclear arms “races”, despite the pandemic being a global challenge (Wilson Center, 2022[8]). The vaccine “nationalism” and “diplomacy” that some countries pursued raises serious concerns about strategic competition in other technology areas and the prospects for future STI co-operation on global challenges (like climate change). Chapter 2 further discusses this issue.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not yet over, and its far-reaching consequences will unfold well into the future. Further variants of concern could emerge, requiring a continuous stream of updated vaccines until vaccinology develops more universal protection (International Science Council, 2022[9]). Disparities in access, distribution and uptake of vaccines remain a major source of uncertainty, given that new variants are more likely to arise from unvaccinated and immunocompromised people. By mid-2022, the WHO estimated that almost one billion people in low-income countries remained unvaccinated.7 This was not due to a lack of vaccine supply – as was the case in much of 2021 – but to rollout problems caused by operational and financial capacity gaps, insufficient political commitment, and vaccine hesitancy driven by misinformation and disinformation.

Effective multilateral actions are still required to provide technical and financial assistance that will help overcome the myriad domestic logistical hurdles facing COVID-19 vaccine deployment. To review experiences gained and lessons learned from the international health response to COVID-19, the WHO set up an Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response in late 2020. The panel published its main report in May 2021, identifying weak links at every point in the chain and recommending a package of reforms to transform the system to enhance pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. A one-year review of progress that followed in May 2022 lamented the lack of investment, co-ordination and ambition to transform the system, resulting in limited and inequitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests and therapies (Johnson Sirleaf and Clark, 2022[10]). Estimates vary, but recent research suggests that more than one million lives could have been saved in 2021 alone if COVID-19 vaccines had been shared more equitably with low- and middle-income regions (Ledford, 2022[11]). More recently, limited supplies and the high costs of COVID-19 antivirals have similarly restricted their flow to low-income countries (Ledford, 2022[12]).

Efforts have been made to expand equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, notably through firms’ non-profit agreements (e.g. the Oxford-AstraZeneca partnership), voluntary licensing arrangements (e.g. the Medicines Patent Pool), and the scale-up of local manufacturing capacity in low- and middle-income countries (e.g. plans by Moderna and BioNTech to set up manufacturing in Africa). However, the global architecture to provide access to vaccines, diagnostics and genomic sequencing – notably the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which includes COVAX – has not met expectations, owing to insufficient funding, wealthier-country hoarding and logistical challenges, among other factors (Johnson Sirleaf and Clark, 2022[10]).

Several OECD countries have announced substantial STI investments to improve pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. For example, Japan recently set up the Strategic Center of Biomedical Advanced Vaccine Research and Development for Preparedness and Response (SCARDA), which will invest in vaccine research on a range of pathogens (including coronaviruses) using a range of technologies for vaccine delivery. With an initial investment of USD 2 billion over five years, SCARDA aims to produce diagnostic tests, treatments and vaccines that will be ready for large-scale production within the first 100 days following the identification of a pathogen with pandemic potential (Mallapaty, 2022[13]). Investments have also been made in antiviral therapeutics. For example, the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases launched the Antiviral Drug Discovery Centers for Pathogens of Pandemic Concern in 2021, endowed with USD 1.2 billion to fund basic research on developing antivirals for seven virus families (Kozlov, 2022[14]). Drawing on a philanthropic donation of AUS 250 million (Australian dollars), the Cumming Global Centre for Pandemic Therapeutics in Australia was launched in 2022 to create drugs within weeks or months of future infectious disease outbreaks (Nelson, 2022[15]). What characterises these new centres is the range of drug platforms they plan to exploit to deal rapidly and in multiple ways with an array of microbial threats.

These are welcome new investments in OECD countries, but a co-ordinated response is also needed to promote longer-term vaccine and therapeutic innovation that includes technical, production and quality-control capacities in low-income countries (International Science Council, 2022[16]). The uneven distribution of research infrastructure capacities at the global level has prevented equitable access to resources and data in many parts of the world, contributing to a disconnect between needs and resources (see Chapter 4). Moreover, the study of COVID-19 variants is largely concentrated in high-income and upper-middle-income countries, even though several dominant variants were first identified in low- and middle-income countries.8 If global vaccination coverage remains unequal, it will be important to develop research capacity that includes more low-income countries, in order to investigate the emergence of variants (UKCDR and GloPID-R, 2022[17]). Research funders have recognised the problem, allocating around USD 200 million globally for COVID-19 projects aiming to strengthen research capacity. Most of these projects focus on reinforcing laboratory capacity in low- and middle-income countries (UKCDR and GloPID-R, 2022[18]). Such a strengthening of research capacity is an important contribution to health-crisis preparedness, but should be extended to provide effective global action for other ongoing and future crises, notably the climate crisis and the need for green transitions. As highlighted in Chapter 4, many countries and organisations have started their own evaluations of their response to COVID-19, and STI performance and future preparedness should be an important focus of such exercises.

Like all health crises, COVID-19 is a broader sociopolitical challenge, but was widely perceived at the outset as a mainly biomedical challenge. In most countries, the biomedical community and its relevant research-funding institutions took the lead in establishing national research agendas. These were too narrowly focused and failed to address all aspects of the crisis from a scientific perspective (see Chapter 4). Furthermore, the pandemic’s health impacts have gone well beyond those associated with the SARS-CoV-2 virus: public health interventions targeting COVID-19 often caused disruptions in healthcare delivery for other conditions, including cancer and heart disease, while access to immunisation services for common childhood illnesses fell in many low- and middle-income countries (UKCDR and GloPID-R, 2023[19]). The WHO (2022) also estimates that the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25% during the first year of the pandemic.

“Long COVID” is another uncertainty, with a persisting lack of consensus on a clear definition of the condition, its clinical characterisation and management, and appropriate support for sufferers. According to data from UKCDR and the GloPID-R COVID-19 Research Project Tracker (UKCDR and GloPID-R, 2022[20]), at least USD 218 million targeted long COVID research as of September 2022, with projects largely concentrated in Europe (48%) and North America (39%).

Finally, mis- and disinformation have been particularly problematic globally (see Chapter 4 and (OECD, 2022[21]), with studies showing a directional relationship between online misinformation and vaccine hesitancy (e.g. (Pierri et al., 2022[22]). As highlighted in Chapter 4, this is a complex problem with no easy solution. Policy responses range from improving the digital and scientific literacy of citizens and policy makers, to promoting active involvement by behavioural and social scientists to provide the necessary background for communicating relevant and useful information to different communities.

Both Russia and Ukraine are relatively minor players in the international STI landscape, so that the war has had few direct impacts on STI activities in OECD countries. Russia’s relative scientific decline in recent decades has made it easier for OECD countries to sever their ties without seriously undermining their own scientific efforts (Johnson Sirleaf and Clark, 2022[10]). The European Union quickly excluded Russia from Horizon Europe following the invasion. Some months later, the United States announced its intention to wind down government-to-government research collaboration with Russia, and advised US agencies and government labs to curtail interaction with the leadership of universities and institutions affiliated with the Russian government (Hudson, 2022[23]).

Science “sanctions” like these are unprecedented, and form part of a wider campaign of economic and trade penalties that are meant to deter Russia (Hudson et al., 2022[24]). It is too early to assess their impacts on Russian science, but there exist STI areas where Russia excels and has strong ties with STI activities by OECD countries, which have been adversely affected by these sanctions. In the space sector, for example, where Russia has deep and extensive capabilities (Undseth and Jolly, 2022[25]), the ExoMars project, a EUR 1.3 billion (euros) joint Europe-Russia mission, has been severely delayed. In Arctic research – much of which is crucial to understanding and monitoring climate change – European scientists have had to suspend collaboration with their Russian counterparts owing to restrictions imposed by their funding agencies or institutions (Gaind et al., 2022[26]).

Besides these disruptions in particular STI fields, the indirect impacts on STI are far greater. The projected economic slowdown in 2023, and the highest rates of inflation seen since the 1980s, could impact STI expenditures. Rising debt service burdens are also set to compound challenges for public finances (OECD, 2022[1]), which could put further pressure on public funding of R&D. The goal of reducing reliance on fossil-fuel supplies from Russia has also lent new urgency to STI investments in clean energy and energy efficiency. Fossil-fuel dependency on Russia has more immediate impacts, however, with scientific infrastructures in Europe – notably particle accelerators, high-power lasers, gamma beams, and supercomputing facilities and data centres – facing massively increased energy bills. This is leading some infrastructures to cut back on experiments (Owens, 2022[27]), (Zubașcu, 2022[28]). The spectre in late-2022 of energy rationing and even rolling blackouts has not materialised, however, although it has drawn greater attention to reducing the carbon footprint of science.9

The impacts of the war on Ukraine’s STI activities have been devastating. Many of its research institutions have been bombed, and around one-quarter of its research workforce fled the country in the early months of the conflict (Nature, 2022[29]). By October 2022, with Russian attacks on Ukraine’s critical civilian infrastructures, like electricity and water, scientific experiments had become almost impossible. Box 1.2 provides a snapshot of Ukraine’s science system in recent years, showing a system in transition prior to Russia’s aggression.10

Many countries and scientific institutions have put in place various arrangements to support Ukraine’s science system (OECD, 2022[30]). These include temporary measures to host Ukrainian students and researchers, providing safe havens in which they can continue their studies and conduct research. For example, the European Commission’s Horizon Europe programme made available EUR 25 million early in the crisis to facilitate and enable this support, and address the immediate and urgent humanitarian challenge.11 The European Commission has also launched a one-stop-shop for information and support services provided to Ukraine-based researchers and researchers fleeing Ukraine.12 On the innovation front, the European Innovation Council has agreed to provide a total EUR 20 million in funding to the Ukrainian innovation community. It will provide up to EUR 60 000 in direct financial support to at least 200 Ukrainian technological start-ups that remain and work in Ukraine, as well as to those that relocate to the European Union during the war (Council, 2022[31]).

Solidarity is pervasive at the global level, as demonstrated by the inventory of offers of assistance and statements of support from science organisations.13 For instance, the Polish Academy of Sciences, with support from the US National Academies of Science, has launched an initiative to help Ukrainian researchers settle in neighbouring Poland.14 Many refugee scientists and students have already been accepted into Polish research institutions. This offers an opportunity to step up scientific partnerships between these two countries, with immediate benefits for Poland and longer-term possibilities for Ukraine. However, Poland will require support and solidarity from other countries and the European Union if it is to effectively perform this temporary hosting role. This includes support for those who choose to return to Ukraine and promoting new sustainable, long-term partnerships between research institutions, to be maintained once the war is over (OECD, 2022[30]).

As highlighted in Box 1.2, Ukraine has longstanding “brain drain” challenges, which the war could exacerbate. There is a long history of scientists leaving their home countries during times of conflict or political crisis, and then struggling to return or contribute effectively as a diaspora once the crisis is over. In an ultra-competitive international science system, where talent is at a premium, many of the best Ukrainian scientists or students may be tempted to stay in their new homes rather than return to institutions that have been subjected to the ravages of war. At the individual level, this would be a very legitimate and understandable choice. The long-term policy aim should be to support genuine brain circulation and partnership between neighbouring countries, rather than pursuing brain gains at the expense of other countries (OECD, 2022[30]).

The OECD has highlighted the following key considerations for policy makers (OECD, 2022[30]):

  • Considering the risks posed by “brain drain” to the future of science in Ukraine, OECD countries should aim to promote genuine brain circulation, and the establishment of sustainable and productive long-term partnerships with Ukrainian scientific institutions.15

  • Individual mobility and international networks can provide the basis for productive future partnerships between Ukrainian research institutes and universities and their counterparts across the world.

  • Policy measures to support refugee scientists from Ukraine should be designed from the outset to ensure they are able to maintain strong links with their home institutions and colleagues, so that the current brain exodus can be rapidly reversed once the war is over.

  • Members of the Ukrainian scientific diaspora should be considered as a strategic asset both for their country of origin and their country of destination. With appropriate support, they can play an important role in brokering or building partnerships.

  • Digital tools and open access to scientific data and publications can provide the basis for much research to continue remotely, even when research institutions are closed or scientists are also contributing to the war effort.

Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is expected to lead to increased expenditures on defence R&D. However, perceived security threats go well beyond traditional defence concerns, extending to a range of issues that have implications for STI policy. These include:

  • using STI to reduce systemic risks, e.g. to enhance food security, energy security, health security and cybersecurity

  • managing technological change responsibly to reduce a range of risks, e.g. those associated with AI, synthetic biology and neurotechnology

  • mitigating and adapting to the climate crisis, which is increasingly framed in terms of the threats it poses to national security

  • reducing vulnerabilities from trade dependencies in high-tech and other strategic goods, leading to a push for “technology sovereignty” and “open strategic autonomy”.

Together with the impacts of the pandemic, these pressures have drawn attention to risk, uncertainty and resilience as conditions and concerns for STI policy. They have contributed to a growing “securitisation” of STI policies, where economic competitiveness rationales for policy intervention interact with rationales emphasising national security, sustainability transitions and (to a much lesser extent) inclusion. Chapter 3 discusses the rationales for sustainability transitions and their implications for STI policies. This chapter discusses selected security concerns, specifically regarding defence R&D expenditures, biosecurity and research security. Chapter 2 covers how security concerns related to technology dependencies are increasingly framing STI policy agendas through concepts such as “technology sovereignty” and “open strategic autonomy”.

Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has cast a spotlight on the role of science and technology in defence. Discovering, developing and utilising advanced knowledge and cutting-edge systems is fundamental to maintaining or achieving a technological edge for purposes of defence and deterrence. OECD statistics on GBARD (OECD, 2022[3]) provide some insights on the extent to which governments direct public funds to R&D for military purposes. They show that defence R&D, which has grown the least in real terms since 1991, has been experiencing a sustained recovery in recent years (Figure 1.13). With total defence expenditures expected to increase in several OECD countries in the coming years, the recovery in defence R&D expenditures could gather pace.

Across the OECD, an estimated 0.15% of GDP is dedicated to defence R&D budgets (OECD, 2022[3]). To put this figure in context, this represents about 7.5% of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation guideline for total defence expenditure as a share of GDP.16 The distribution of military R&D budgets is highly skewed: the United States reports the largest R&D budget support for defence as a percentage of GDP, followed by Korea, France and the United Kingdom (Figure 1.14). In Europe, many countries are planning to increase expenditure on defence; a few countries, such as Germany and Poland, have already announced a large increase (0.5-1% of GDP per year) for 2022/23 (OECD, 2022[32]).

Synthetic biology17 is a promising field that could help tackle current and future challenges, including through treating infectious and genetic diseases (Khan et al., 2022[33]), preventing food shortages (Mudziwapasi et al., 2022[34]) and mitigating the impacts of climate change (DeLisi, 2019[35]). At the same time, the field comes with inherent risks, centred on dual-use research and deliberate misuse. These risks cannot be eliminated – only managed. Yet there is consensus across the academic literature that public bodies are underprepared for the risks stemming from rapid advances in synthetic biology (OECD, forthcoming[36]). An engineered pandemic-class agent (Bakerlee, 2021[37]) with a higher case fatality rate and transmissibility than SARS-CoV-2 could overwhelm the insufficient detection and response systems that exist today (Bell and Nuzzo, 2021[38]), potentially leading to a breakdown of critical food, water and power distribution systems, and local civilisational collapse. Possible countermeasures include untargeted metagenomic sequencing to enable early detection of emerging pandemics18 and improvements in response capacities – for example, by stockpiling personal protective equipment, and using safe pathogen-killing lights and improved ventilation to block pathogen transmission.19 Besides detection and response capacities, prevention countermeasures are also required, including measures to delay the proliferation of pandemic-class agents (Box 1.3). Managing these risks is a balancing act between supporting scientific advancements for the betterment of humanity and implementing appropriate measures against biosecurity threats (OECD, forthcoming[36]).

Some governments and non-state actors are making increasingly forceful efforts to unfairly exploit and skew the open research environment towards their own interests. Such efforts have become more apparent as geopolitical tensions have mounted, and many countries now consider unauthorised information transfer and foreign interference in public research as serious national and economic security risks. Governments are implementing measures to improve research security (see Box 1.4) while at the same time emphasising the norms and principles that constitute good scientific practice – such as academic freedom, openness, honesty and accountability – and regulate international research collaboration – including reciprocity, equity and non-discrimination. A lack of shared and respected international regulations and norms can lead not only to a misappropriation of research, but also to certain types of research being selectively conducted in countries that do not impose legal or ethical restraints (OECD, 2022[44]).

Maintaining the balance between open and trust-based scientific collaboration, and protective but potentially restrictive regulations, is a major challenge. Over-regulation or excessive intervention can undermine the freedom of scientific enquiry and exchange. For example, while national governments have routinely defined research on chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive technologies as dual-use, and historically used conventional export control systems to prevent knowledge transfer, it is less easy to control the transfer of data, information and know-how from scientific research carried out without a specific practical aim. This means that basic research has traditionally been exempt from export controls. At the same time, knowledge from many areas of fundamental research can arguably be considered as potentially dual-use. For instance, AI or quantum computing have the potential for both civilian and military use, in addition to being the focus of intense economic competition between companies, countries and regions.

There is a growing sense of multiple crises triggering turbulence, instability and insecurity in contemporary societies. Crises are building up one after another and interacting in unpredictable ways, with impacts on economies, politics, the environment and global affairs. Even seemingly singular crises like the COVID-19 pandemic are complex, with cascading effects that have proven difficult to predict and resolve. This “polycrisis” (Homer-Dixon et al., 2022[47]) or “permacrisis”20 situation has presented decision makers with a high degree of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Policy needs to be more anticipatory, systemic, inclusive and innovative to manage crises, and contribute to society’s capacity for resiliency and adaptation to shocks. However, such policy qualities depend on government capacities which are often lacking, and will take time and considerable investment to develop.

To a significant extent, STI provides economies and societies with built-in resiliency capacity. However, it can only perform this role effectively if it is well-prepared to respond to known risks and unknown uncertainties. Of course, good preparation requires long-term investments in R&D, skills, and research and technical infrastructures, but these alone are insufficient. It also needs strong relationships in “normal times” among those who should mobilise rapidly to deal with crisis situations (de Silva et al., 2022[48]), as well as a strong strategic intelligence capacity to identify, monitor and evaluate emerging risks and responses.

The global nature of crises also calls for vibrant multilateralism and international solidarity. The COVID-19 response experience was mixed in this regard, demonstrating what could be done rapidly through international co-operation but also its limits, particularly in the uneven international rollout of vaccines and therapeutics. Vaccine nationalism and diplomacy are perhaps emblematic of international co-operation-competition dynamics that are likely to characterise the response to other crises, notably climate change (see Chapter 3). Such dynamics will continue to shape the ways in which research and innovation can contribute to global crisis responses.

Finally, growing securitisation of STI offers opportunities, but also risks. On the one hand, framing global problems like climate change, biodiversity loss and food insecurity as national security risks – on account of their wide-ranging and unpredictable effects – further raises their profiles as problems requiring urgent domestic action, including in STI. On the other hand, it could divert STI from targeting other goals related to sustainability transitions and social inclusion, as well as escalate international tensions. Part 2 discusses this issue further.


[52] Adepoju, P. (2022), “African coronavirus surveillance network provides early warning for world”, Nature Biotechnology, Vol. 40/2, pp. 147-148, https://doi.org/10.1038/d41587-022-00003-3.

[37] Bakerlee, C. (2021), Mother Nature is not ‘the ultimate bioterrorist’, STAT, https://www.statnews.com/2021/01/08/mother-nature-is-not-the-ultimate-bioterrorist/ (accessed on 24 February 2023).

[4] Barreneche, A. (2021), Tracking science and innovation policies in response to COVID-19, https://stiplab.github.io/datastories/covid/covid_blog.html (accessed on 24 February 2023).

[38] Bell, J. and J. Nuzzo (2021), Global Health Security Index: Advancing Collective Action and Accountability Amid Global Crisis, Global Health Security Index, https://www.ghsindex.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/2021_GHSindexFullReport_Final.pdf (accessed on 24 February 2023).

[51] Biasin, M. et al. (2021), “UV-C irradiation is highly effective in inactivating SARS-CoV-2 replication”, Scientific Reports, Vol. 11/1, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-85425-w.

[31] Council, I. (2022), Conference on the Ukraine Crisis: Responses from the European higher education and research sectors, https://doi.org/10.24948/2022.04.

[48] de Silva, M. et al. (2022), “How did COVID-19 shape co-creation?: Insights and policy lessons from international initiatives”, OECD Science, Technology and Industry Policy Papers, No. 134, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/e11c5274-en.

[35] DeLisi, C. (2019), “The role of synthetic biology in climate change mitigation”, Biology Direct, Vol. 14/1, https://doi.org/10.1186/s13062-019-0247-8.

[46] European Commission (2022), “Tackling R&I foreign interference: staff working document”, https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/3faf52e8-79a2-11ec-9136-01aa75ed71a1/language-en (accessed on 24 February 2023).

[45] G7-Summit (2022), Annex to the G7 Science Ministers` Communiqué 2022: Further Implementation and G7 Science Working Groups, https://www.bmbf.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/de/2022/220613-g7-annex.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=4 (accessed on 24 February 2023).

[26] Gaind, N. et al. (2022), “Seven ways the war in Ukraine is changing global science”, Nature, Vol. 607/7919, pp. 440-443, https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-01960-0.

[43] Herfst, S. et al. (2012), “Airborne Transmission of Influenza A/H5N1 Virus Between Ferrets”, Science, Vol. 336/6088, pp. 1534-1541, https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1213362.

[47] Homer-Dixon, T. et al. (2022), “A call for an international research program on the risk of a global polycrisis”, https://cascadeinstitute.org/technical-paper/a-call-for-an-international-research-program-on-the-risk-of-a-global-polycrisis/ (accessed on 24 February 2023).

[23] Hudson, R. (2022), US to ‘wind down’ research collaboration with Russia, Science|Business, https://sciencebusiness.net/news/us-wind-down-research-collaboration-russia (accessed 4 October 2022). (accessed on 24 February 2023).

[24] Hudson, R. et al. (2022), “The conduct of science in times of war”, Science Business discussion paper, Science|Business, https://sciencebusiness.net/report/conduct-science-times-war (accessed 4 October 2022).

[9] International Science Council (2022), Conference on the Ukraine Crisis: Responses from the European higher education and research sectors - A Conference Report, International Science Council, https://doi.org/10.24948/2022.04.

[16] International Science Council (2022), Unprecedented & Unfinished: COVID-19 and Implications for National and Global Policy, International Science Council, https://doi.org/10.24948/2022.03.

[10] Johnson Sirleaf, E. and H. Clark (2022), Transforming or Tinkering? Inaction lays the groundwork for another pandemic.

[33] Khan, A. et al. (2022), “Combating Infectious Diseases with Synthetic Biology”, ACS Synthetic Biology, Vol. 11/2, pp. 528-537, https://doi.org/10.1021/acssynbio.1c00576.

[14] Kozlov, M. (2022), “Why scientists are racing to develop more COVID antivirals”, Nature, Vol. 601/7894, pp. 496-496, https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-00112-8.

[11] Ledford, H. (2022), “COVID vaccine hoarding might have cost more than a million lives”, Nature, https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-03529-3.

[12] Ledford, H. (2022), “Donated COVID drugs start flowing to poor nations — but can’t meet demand”, Nature, https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-02939-7.

[13] Mallapaty, S. (2022), “Japan’s $2-billion initiative to prep pandemic vaccines in 100 days”, Nature, Vol. 610/7930, pp. 20-20, https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-03000-3.

[34] Mudziwapasi, R. et al. (2022), “Unlocking the potential of synthetic biology for improving livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa”, All Life, Vol. 15/1, pp. 1-12, https://doi.org/10.1080/26895293.2021.2014986.

[29] Nature (2022), “Ukraine’s scientists need help to rebuild their research system”, Nature, Vol. 609/7925, pp. 7-7, https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-02760-2.

[15] Nelson, F. (2022), “Billion-dollar project aims to prep drugs before the next pandemic”, Nature, https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-02776-8.

[54] OECD (2022), “Building back a better innovation ecosystem in Ukraine”, OECD Policy Responses on the Impacts of the War in Ukraine, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://www.oecd.org/ukraine-hub/policy-responses/building-back-a-better-innovation-ecosystem-in-ukraine-85a624f6/ (accessed on 6 March 2023).

[44] OECD (2022), “Integrity and security in the global research ecosystem”, OECD Science, Technology and Industry Policy Papers, No. 130, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/1c416f43-en.

[32] OECD (2022), OECD Economic Outlook, Volume 2022 Issue 1, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/62d0ca31-en.

[1] OECD (2022), OECD Economic Outlook, Volume 2022 Issue 2, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/f6da2159-en.

[3] OECD (2022), OECD Main Science and Technology Indicators: Highlights – March 2022, https://www.oecd.org/sti/msti-highlights-march-2022.pdf (accessed on 24 February 2023).

[21] OECD (2022), Public communication and engagement in science: lessons learned from COVID-19, https://www.oecd.org/sti/inno/public-communication-engagement-in-science.htm (accessed on 24 February 2023).

[30] OECD (2022), “The future of science in Ukraine: Actions now will affect post-war recovery”, OECD Policy Responses on the Impacts of the War in Ukraine, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/afbd05df-en.

[2] OECD (2021), OECD Science, Technology and Innovation Outlook 2021: Times of Crisis and Opportunity, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/75f79015-en.

[36] OECD (forthcoming), “Existential risks in synthetic biology: considerations and scenarios”.

[6] OECD (forthcoming), Measuring governments’ R&D funding response to COVID-19 with project data: Preliminary analysis from the OECD Fundstat initiative.

[27] Owens, B. (2022), “Energy crisis squeezes science at CERN and other major facilities”, Nature, Vol. 610/7932, pp. 431-432, https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-03257-8.

[22] Pierri, F. et al. (2022), “Online misinformation is linked to early COVID-19 vaccination hesitancy and refusal”, Scientific Reports, Vol. 12/1, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-10070-w.

[39] Rabitz, F. (2014), Regulatory Gaps in the Global Governance of Synthetic Biology.

[41] Sandbrink, J. et al. (2022), “Mitigating Biosecurity Challenges Associated with Zoonotic Risk Prediction”, SSRN Electronic Journal, https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4035760.

[42] SpillOver (2022), SpillOver: Viral Risk Ranking, https://spillover.global (accessed on 24 February 2023).

[49] Sun, T. et al. (2022), “Challenges and recent progress in the governance of biosecurity risks in the era of synthetic biology”, Journal of Biosafety and Biosecurity, Vol. 4/1, pp. 59-67, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jobb.2022.02.002.

[50] Thompson, T. (2021), “Real-world data show that filters clean COVID-causing virus from air”, Nature, https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-02669-2.

[19] UKCDR and GloPID-R (2023), Indirect health impacts, https://www.ukcdr.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/2-Tracker-Highlights-Template_Indirect-health-impacts.pdf (accessed on 24 February 2023).

[20] UKCDR and GloPID-R (2022), Long COVID, https://www.ukcdr.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/UKCDR-140922-Tracker-Highlights-Long-Covid.pdf (accessed on 24 February 2023).

[17] UKCDR and GloPID-R (2022), New variants, https://www.ukcdr.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/UKCDR-140922_new-variants.pdf (accessed on 24 February 2023).

[18] UKCDR and GloPID-R (2022), Research Capacity Strengthening, https://www.ukcdr.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/UKCDR_140922_Research-Capacity-Strengthening.pdf (accessed on 24 February 2023).

[25] Undseth, M. and C. Jolly (2022), “A new landscape for space applications: Illustrations from Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine”, OECD Science, Technology and Industry Policy Papers, No. 137, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/866856be-en.

[53] Waltz, E. (2022), “How nasal-spray vaccines could change the pandemic”, Nature, Vol. 609/7926, pp. 240-242, https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-02824-3.

[7] Watson, O. et al. (2022), “Global impact of the first year of COVID-19 vaccination: a mathematical modelling study”, The Lancet Infectious Diseases, Vol. 22/9, pp. 1293-1302, https://doi.org/10.1016/s1473-3099(22)00320-6.

[5] WHO, W. (2020), “A Coordinated Global Research Roadmap: 2019 Novel Coronavirus”.

[8] Wilson Center (2022), Reframing Vaccine Diplomacy Amid Strategic Competition: Lessons from COVID-19.

[40] Xie, X. et al. (2021), “Engineering SARS-CoV-2 using a reverse genetic system”, Nature Protocols, Vol. 16/3, pp. 1761-1784, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41596-021-00491-8.

[28] Zubașcu, F. (2022), Energy crisis is starting to hit Europe’s big science labs, Science|Business, https://sciencebusiness.net/news/energy-crisis-starting-hit-europes-big-science-labs (accessed on 24 February 2023).


← 1. In the context of this chapter, “securitisation” refers to the reframing of regular policy issues, such as climate change, migration, and emerging technologies, into matters of “security”.

← 2. In the EU27 area, business R&D performance was the main reason for an aggregate fall in R&D expenditures. This is because the structure of business R&D in the European Union is more concentrated in industries that were more negatively impacted by the COVID-19 crisis (see below).

← 3. Estimates of real growth in R&D expenses for the ensemble of firms in the OECD SwiFTBeRD panel map very closely the evolution of official business expenditure on R&D estimates over periods in which these are available. For example, the final 2020 estimates of the September 2022 MSTI release confirm the “nowcasts” made in the March 2021 release for 2020.

← 4. UKCDR (https://www.ukcdr.org.uk/) is a group of UK Government departments and research funders working in international development research. UKCDR aims to amplify the value and impact of research for global development by promoting coherence, collaboration and joint action among UK research funders.

← 5. This makes the UKCDR/GloPID-R COVID-19 Research Project Tracker (https://www.ukcdr.org.uk/covid-circle/covid-19-research-project-tracker/) one of the most comprehensive databases on COVID-19 research projects, covering a wide breadth of research disciplines. However, because of limited data availability on funding, it significantly underestimates the awarded total research funding.

← 6. 776 projects targeting “candidate vaccine R&D” were awarded USD 2.3 billion, with another USD 1.4 billion going to 7 320 projects targeting “social sciences in the outbreak response”. This means that the average project size for vaccine research was USD 3 million, compared to USD 195 000 for social sciences project – i.e. more than 15 times larger.

← 7. The development of oral or nasal vaccines could be a game-changer for promoting global access. It could prevent even mild cases of illness and block onward transmission (Waltz, 2022[53]).

← 8. As Omicron spread across the globe, South African labs were the first to detect it and flag it to the world. The Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa first spotted the mutated variant in sequencing data from Botswana (Adepoju, 2022[52]).

← 9. In France, for example, the Agence Nationale de la Recherche is drawing up an “energy sobriety” plan that will incorporate sustainability criteria in its project funding assessments.

← 10. In the context of the preparation of Ukraine’s National Recovery and Development Plan in May-June 2022, the OECD contributed ideas on how Ukraine’s science, technology and innovation system could be reformed to better contribute to the post-war reconstruction of its economy and society. These are summarised in (OECD, 2022[54]).

← 11. https://euraxess.ec.europa.eu/ukraine.

← 12. This European Research Area for Ukraine (ERA4Ukraine) portal brings together initiatives at the EU level, per country and from non-governmental groups (https://euraxess.ec.europa.eu/euraxess/news/era4ukraine-one-stop-shop-support-researchers-ukraine).

← 13. This is being compiled by the International Science Council (https://council.science/current/news/statements-international-scientific-community-conflict-ukraine/).

← 14. https://www.nationalacademies.org/supporting-ukraines-scientists-engineers-and-health-care-workers.

← 15. An example of promoting brain circulation with Ukraine is an initiative of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), which aims to establish “German-Ukrainian Cores of Excellence” (CoE), i.e. centres for cutting-edge research in Ukraine. The goal is to establish bilateral research units under the leadership of a top researcher (preferably of Ukrainian origin) with the involvement of young Ukrainian scientists, and to transfer them to Ukraine, provided that the security situation is safe. The initiative aims to integrate Ukrainian scientists as a group while maintaining close ties with Ukrainian partner institutes. In this way, the CoE aim to counteract the current brain drain and contribute to the stabilisation and recovery of Ukrainian science. An initial call was published in 2019, and since 2021, 12 German-Ukrainian scientific teams have been developing concepts for establishing future CoE. The best of these will be funded in an implementation phase, which is expected to start in 2024. This BMBF initiative will be complemented by other (medium-term) co-operation approaches. These aim to enhance research cooperation, develop local scientific capacities, support reform processes and promote the integration of Ukrainian science into the European Research Area. A major priority is research co-operation in the field of energy and green hydrogen to facilitate the rapid (re)construction of a sustainable energy system in Ukraine.

← 16. Distinguishing R&D from other military expenditures is challenging, partly because public procurement contracts for defence systems may not allow disentangling sums allocated for R&D purposes from sums spent on actual deliveries. Spending on classified military R&D projects is also likely to go unreported, leading some OECD countries not to report any defence R&D figures at all.

← 17. Synthetic biology is defined as a multidisciplinary field that “integrates systems biology, engineering, computer science, and other disciplines to achieve the ‘modification of life’ or even the ‘creation of life’ via the redesign of existing natural systems or the development of new biological components and devices” (Sun et al., 2022[49]).

← 18. For example, the Nucleic Acid Observatory project (https://www.naobservatory.org/) aims to build a reliable early warning system by looking for exponentially increasing nucleic acids in wastewater from travel hubs, using untargeted metagenomic sequencing.

← 19. Passive mechanisms such as improved ventilation using HEPA filters (Thompson, 2021[50]) or pathogen-killing lights are a proven way to reduce transmission. Applying sufficient low-wavelength germicidal lights to inactivate over 90% of viruses within a second would reliably block the spread of the most contagious known pathogens. Preliminary studies have shown that low-wavelength germicidal lights are safe for humans and other multicellular organisms while efficiently killing pathogens like SARS-CoV-2 (Biasin et al., 2021[51]).

← 20. This is the Collins Dictionary’s “Word of the Year 2022”, which they define as “an extended period of instability and insecurity” (https://blog.collinsdictionary.com/language-lovers/a-year-of-permacrisis/).

Metadata, Legal and Rights

This document, as well as any data and map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area. Extracts from publications may be subject to additional disclaimers, which are set out in the complete version of the publication, available at the link provided.

© OECD 2023

The use of this work, whether digital or print, is governed by the Terms and Conditions to be found at https://www.oecd.org/termsandconditions.