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Issue Papers

Science and Digitalization for a Better Future

Task Force: International cooperation for the global common good


Anna-Katharina Hornidge ,
 Alyssa Jade McDonald-Baertl
Edgar Pieterse


Global challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and the global debt crisis call for more cooperation among nations. Yet instead of well-coordinated, wise cooperation for the global common good, geopolitical tensions are rising and protectionism seems to have become a “new normal”. As a consequence, the delivery of the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 has been dramatically slow and the benefits of growth policies are imbalanced across high-, low-, and middle-income countries just as within them.

In 2020, a global response to the COVID-19 pandemic was made possible—however imperfect—by keeping borders open, avoiding unconsidered export restrictions, and pushing for cooperation for large-scale public goods, including the development and distribution of vaccines, even though insufficient. Today we are tasked with consolidating the lessons from the pandemic in terms of international scientific cooperation, science-to-policy interaction, and multilateral science policy making. Compared with the pre-pandemic times, the world has become riskier and more uncertain in just a few years. The dynamics unfolding between different crises and their cascading effects at combined global and local scales pose a new urgency to act in a multilaterally coordinated manner.

The Group of Seven (G7), representing countries of significant scientific and innovative might, is thus tasked with the responsibility of global intellectual and technological leadership, besides and in addition to economic and political leadership. First, the acceleration of digitalization and progress made in a number of scientific domains can play a crucial role in strengthening human capabilities to deal with the risks ahead, cognizant that they are also part of such risks. Second, whereas social, economic, or environmental risks are global in nature, science and innovation should pay much more attention to responses that fit and stem from local, societal contexts. Third, nationally organized science systems should give way to transregional, crossborder cooperation that is not limited to a specific group of nations (such as the G7). Fourth, regionally differentiated, empirically substantiated science and research out of different societal contexts will require much more focus to make an effective impact and contribute to global development and environmental goals.

Adapted and distributed science systems can go beyond addressing risks and create pathways to alternative modalities of living and co-existing which would be inherently less risky, while embodying transformed societies. The concept of “just transition” recently initiated by the G7 in the field of energy and greenhouse gas emissions seems a relevant fit to ensure that science systems, which integrate diverse perspectives, and are based on interdisciplinary research to globally provide context-sensitive outcomes, address the most urgent priorities, and ensure a structural shift to alternative economic and social well-being at national and subnational levels. Policy making informed by science is the cornerstone of globally coordinated responses to current challenges. Advancements in the field of digitalization can substantially support transformational processes in societies across the globe. Last but not least, both science and digitalization policy making are crucial for fostering joint communication and action frames across transnational and geopolitical differences.