Remarks by Angel Gurría,
OECD Secretary General
OECD, Paris - 4 April 2019,
(As prepared for delivery)
Ladies and gentlemen,
In October 2015 I had the pleasure of participating in the Committee for Scientific and Technological Policy Ministerial in Daejeon. Ambitions were high, as we discussed “STI policies for the digital and global age”. And we succeeded in adopting the Daejeon Declaration, with 58 economies adhering!
Coming from every continent, ministers set out their vision of how science, technology and innovation can improve people’s lives, provide new opportunities for investment and meet societal challenges.
Today, digital technologies are transforming science and innovation, but budgets remain under pressure and trust in governments has declined. This is making it more difficult for policymakers to harness the benefits of the digital transformation.
A message highlighted in the 2018 STI Outlook – which I launched in November at the Global Strategy Group meeting – was that science and technology have a lot to contribute to achieving sustainable growth. But it doesn’t happen automatically. At this High-level Roundtable, therefore, your challenge will be to once again set an ambitious path and to help unleash the great potential of science, technology and innovation – ensuring it works for all. And we have already done a lot of work on which we can build.
A few weeks ago, we held the Going Digital Summit, marking the end of the first phase of our Going Digital project. It demonstrates how science, technology and innovation have been a driving force behind the digital transformation.
Digital technology is helping to pave the way to a new age of open science, facilitating scientific discovery and speeding innovation cycles. The use of AI in science, for instance, has the potential to make it faster and easier to extract information from literature, to collect data or to optimise experimental design.
We have recently developed Principles on Artificial Intelligence. These Principles are on track to be adopted as an OECD Recommendation at the Ministerial Council Meeting, which this year will be on the theme of harnessing digital transition for sustainable development. The aim is to build consensus around key “universal” principles for AI such as human-centred values, transparency and accountability, as well as offering recommendations for national policies and international cooperation.
This initiative is an example of the OECD’s processes at their best and shows the potential of our standard-setting power. The OECD can offer collective solutions, relevant to all countries -- including non-members – seeking to harness digital technologies for greater well-being.
Governments have a crucial role to play in this area. They can shape STI policies in order to advance the transition to open science. They can also engage in public sector research. And they can foster the diffusion of digital technologies.
Yet since 2010, OECD-wide government R&D spending has stagnated or decreased. Only in 2017 did government spending on R&D in OECD countries catch up to its 2010 level in real terms – and this was still 5% below its 2009 level.
This squeeze has real consequences. For example, it makes it harder for governments to pursue action on the Sustainable Development Goals; it also means that government spending is less of a catalyst for business investment. Indeed, the rate of growth of real global business R&D spending has slowed by about one sixth since 2014.
To tackle these challenges, new and innovative policy approaches are needed. Already this afternoon you discussed mission-oriented research programmes that can help steer STI towards societal needs.
Crucially, however, these programmes can also foster the involvement of civil society in the design of the policy agenda and make actions more visible to citizens. This can also be a valuable response, in your policy area, to the broader crisis of trust in government.
Moreover, greater strategic orientation can also help governments take important decisions on funding. We should not forget, for example, that while the recent surge of AI has been driven by business efforts – AI start-ups received more than 50 billion dollars of private equity investment from 2011 to mid-2018 – this has followed five decades of fundamental research, all funded by government.
Last but not least, many of the major challenges that we face today are global in scope: sustainable development of the ocean economy; the management of pandemics; establishing principles for responsible innovation in neuro-technology. As such, these challenges call for a global response and greater multilateral dialogue and the OECD has an important contribution to make.
The pace at which science and knowledge advance depends on the extent to which they are shared. Obstacles to that sharing must be minimised. You have two OECD Council Recommendations under your responsibility that are focused on supporting international co-operation in science and technology – but they date from 1986 and 1995.
Your review of these instruments offers a golden opportunity to identify best practices and ensure that the OECD is at the forefront of policies for harnessing STI for society.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Science, Technology and Innovation can help propel our efforts to achieve sustainable and inclusive growth. It can help us to protect our planet and to create opportunities for all. I therefore urge you to be bold, to provide inspiration, to maintain the spirit of collaboration and to keep exchanging views and information on policy experiences in your countries. Use the OECD as your laboratory to design, develop and deliver better STI policies for better lives! Thank you.