Fast-tracking the transition to a green economy – globally acknowledged as the pathway to sustainable development – could be undermined and hampered by the insufficient focus and commitment to research and development (R&D) expenditure in South Africa.
This emerged as a central theme from a report entitled 'Measurement of Green Economy Research and Development 2010/11-2016/17' released by research institution Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS) on June 5.
The report was commissioned by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) with the aim of defining ‘green R&D’ and determining the levels of green R&D investment in South Africa.
The researchers, Gaylor Montmasson-Clair, Shakespear Mudombi and Georgina Ryan, explain that this study is a “first-of-its-kind endeavour” not only in South Africa but also globally.
The research was conducted in collaboration with the Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators (CeSTII) at the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC).
The research found that R&D investment in South Africa was insufficient to fast-track the transition to a green economy.
The researchers say further efforts are required to spur R&D investment overall, and green R&D expenditure specifically.
Particularly, attention should be paid to foster investment by the private sector, as well as diversify the fields of green R&D expenditure, they note.
When considering R&D expenditure, the overall target has historically been to achieve 1.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) – the international benchmark in the field. In 2016, R&D expenditure only reached 0.8% of GDP in South Africa.
The ‘green’ share of R&D stood between 17% and 20% of overall R&D in 2016/17.
Moreover, it was largely dominated by public sector expenditure (for about three quarters), highlighting the lack of green R&D by the private sector. Expenditure was also heavily concentrated towards a limited number of areas, such as agriculture, farming and natural resource management.
However, the measurement of green R&D is but one input measure in a complex set of factors that make up both the innovation system and the enablers for a green economy transition. The researchers acknowledge that further work is needed to better understand the green R&D and innovation value chain.
The researchers explain that, globally, “the shift to a green economy provides a blueprint to address the many challenges faced by countries across the globe, such as climate change, poverty, inequality and unemployment”.
In the South African context, the National Development Plan has a clear long-term vision that, by 2030, South Africa’s transition to an environmentally sustainable, climate change resilient, low-carbon economy and just society will be well under way.
This notably requires the decoupling of economic growth from natural resource degradation and depletion as well as the protection and enhancement of the country’s environmental assets and natural resources.
To encourage a more sustainable development, there is a need to build human capital and a technological base to implement programmes that will concomitantly achieve economic development, social progress and environmental preservation, TIPS notes.