Science and Technology

Creating and using knowledge and innovation is an essential ingredient in human development. Science and technology will be critical to meeting the SDGs, particularly in the Tropics. Research has demonstrated that the returns on investment in R&D in developing economies are much higher than in wealthier countries. Technological innovation is a key driver of sustained economic growth and improved welfare. Investment in science and technology is a major input to this innovation process, providing the technical basis for improvements across all aspects of society and the natural environment. The effective development and application of technology requires sufficient and appropriate infrastructure and institutions, suitably trained personnel and effective linkages within and between these groups. There are regionally unique challenges associated with sustainable development in the Tropics. Finding the necessary solutions will require continued development of the capacity of R&D to address such challenges. Tropical challenges require tropical solutions.

  • Despite improvement, investment in research and development (R&D) in the Tropics remains much lower than in the rest of the world. Globally, more than 2.2% of GDP was spent on R&D in 2016–2017, a value that has changed little since the turn of the century. In the Tropics, however, R&D spending (in nations for which data are available) has increased by more than 30 percentage points, equating to an increase of more than 70% in total spending. In 2016, total R&D spending in the Tropics accounted for 12% of global R&D spending.
  • Dominated by China, Europe, the US and increasingly the Republic of Korea, the rest of the world has a much greater rate of patent fling than the Tropics. However, patent fling in the Tropics grew steadily between 2000 and 2017, with little impact from the GFC.
  • Globally, between 2014 and 2016, there was a decline in science and technology journal articles published in all fields; however, this was not mirrored in the Tropics. In 2016, the Tropics accounted for 12% of Scopus articles published worldwide, up from 9% in 2003. This proportion has revised up previous estimates as reported in the 2014 State of the Tropics report, but still indicates a gap between the Tropics and the rest of the world, particularly proportional to the human population.

The State of the Tropics 2014 report identified a large gap between the Tropics and the rest of the world in terms of research funding and output. While there has been improvement in the Tropics in this respect, the divide remains as large as ever. A key tenet of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is the call to strengthen developing countries’ scientific and technological capacities. This will require a conducive policy environment to support development, research and innovation; a stronger educational base; and enhanced North–South, South–South and triangular regional and international cooperation in science, technology and innovation. Given the global disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic of 2019–2020, a strong science, innovation and education sector will be more important than ever.