Bill Gates is spot on when he urges world leaders "to take on our biggest problems through dramatic increases in scientific research—because we know that government-funded research can create jobs now, meet public needs soon, and lead to economic growth far into the future." He writes
"Whether the research is in global health or agriculture or information technology or energy, the dynamic is the same. Innovation comes from government spending on R&D plus the creative genius of the private sector which takes the findings from lab to market."
Economic research for Copenhagen Consensus corroborates Gates' claims.
Doubling R&D in energy technologies has a benefit of $11 for every dollar spent.Tackling climate change depends on further technological developments in energy storage, transmission and distribution, transportation, efficiency etc. Actively seeking these technologies through targeted R&D programs will expedite the global energy transformation required to provide sustainable energy access for all. Such an approach is at least 100 times more effective than what we get from current subsidies to wind and solar.
An excellent way of achieving better food security is investing an extra $88bn in agricultural research and development over the next 15 years, which would increase yields by an additional 0.4 percentage points each year. That might not sound like very much but over the years, it would add up to a substantial increase in the world's agricultural production. The resulting reduction in prices and improvements in food security would help almost everyone.
It could save 79 million people from hunger and avoid 5 million children being malnourished.
This would be worth nearly $3 trillion in social good – yielding an enormous $34 of benefits for every dollar spent.
And with regard to the infectious diseases that Gates mentions, in 2011, the Copenhagen Consensus Center's expert panel of five distinguished economists, including three Nobel Laureates, ranked AIDS vaccine research and development as the top AIDS intervention in which the global community should continue to invest. For every dollar spent on extra vaccine funding, the benefits in avoided HIV infections and deaths could run beyond $11.
Science is indeed a "great giver". If politicians started to focus more on innovation and less on popular short-term objectives, they could do an enormous amount of good in energy, food security, health and many other policy fields.
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