Asia Ramps Up Research In 2021 UNESCO Science Report

To support sustainability and advance digital transformation, governments and researchers in Asia are coming together to focus research direction and increase output.

AsianScientist (Aug. 23, 2021) – As humanity continues to face relentless challenges like climate change and emerging diseases, countries worldwide are turning to research for solutions. In this arena, Asian countries are no slouch, with China driving 44 percent of growth in global research spending between 2014 and 2018 according to the 2021 UNESCO Science Report.

First published in 1993, the UNESCO Science Report monitors and chronicles the evolution of science, technology and innovation across the globe. While most publications worldwide are focused on health considering the COVID-19 pandemic, the same report shows that climate research is growing in prominence.

With the pressing urgency for nations to embrace cleaner and greener processes, science not only provides alternatives to current harmful practices, but also offers greater resilience to destructive natural disasters and increasingly common extreme weather events.

Globally, Asia is a significant supporter and contributor to the global science and innovation ecosystem, with India showing the fastest research growth rates and Indonesia’s research output tripling between 2011 and 2019. Here are five key highlights from the report.

1. The rising role of research

With an increasing focus on developing solutions and driving growth, countries all over the world are ramping up investment into research. Asian countries are no different—in fact, South Korea has the second highest research intensity in the world.

Several ASEAN governments are also raising investment into research and development (R&D), with Malaysia devoting 1.44 percent of GDP to expenditure on R&D in 2016, according to the latest available data. Singapore has also increased investment by 31 percent for the next five years as part of its Research Innovation and Enterprise 2025 Plan, resulting in a S$25 billion R&D budget.

2. Plastic fills up research pool

As the threat of climate change becomes more apparent, the world is racing against time to adjust existing practices. This urgency has translated to an increased focus on floating plastic debris in the ocean, with global research output on the topic ballooning from 46 publications in 2011 to over 850 in 2019.

Despite their role as manufacturing and recycling hubs for plastics, Asian countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand are also looking to reduce plastic debris by boosting their own research output on sustainable alternatives like biodegradable materials. In fact, research output on plastic alternatives has reached over five times more than the global average intensity in 2019.

On top of reducing production, other Asian countries hope to make an impact by limiting imports. For example, China decided to stop importing low-quality plastic waste in 2017—fundamentally changing global recycling streams.

Jill Arul graduated with a degree in Communication Studies from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, with a keen interest for science and a passion for storytelling.

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