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The role of science and technology towards multilateralism in post-COVID-19 world

S&T

COVID-19 is currently creating havoc on socio-economic landscape of the countries which is pushing them to take rather forced decisions. These decisions in post-COVID-19 will directly and indirectly affect multilateralism through different aspects. Hence, multilateralism should focus on following points to re-establish itself in the post-pandemic world:

• Climate Change: COVID-19 has dethroned the biggest threats like terrorism for the nations and now problems associated with climate change are considered as above than all. As the multilateral systems were not ready for problems like this pandemic earlier as well, risks associated with climate change are going to be way greater and as of now the world is not ready for any further resilience. The loss and damage due to climate change is going to severely affect both financial as well as the social securities.

Whilst many developed countries have some safety against losses occurring due to natural disasters but in case of developing countries these losses go remain uninsured. This means that the mentioned gap between developed and developing states keeps on hiding the vulnerable under carpet for long but, in case of extreme situations like COVID-19 pandemic, all states will be pushed towards the tipping points. Therefore, a 'Climate Risk Map' specially for developing nations should become a precedence for multilateralism. This map will enable these countries to plan for critical susceptibilities such as coasts and urban heat stress, water stress, crop loss, and biodiversity collapse, etc. and look for potential approaches to insure the losses which might occur in case of stress. These approaches would also permit provinces and national governments to apprise their action plans on climate change with a deeper understanding of climate risks.  

• Science Diplomacy: There is no denying the fact that now we are scientifically more advanced, but this also means that we should not neglect how Science, Technology & Innovation (STI) has been transforming global politics and international relations dramatically. This strong effect will be going to transform multilateralism in many ways: 

Paris Climate Agreement-2016, Iran Nuclear Deal, International Solar Alliance, and of course as earlier mentioned, current COVID-19 vaccine quests are the prominent examples of states uniting for tackling the global challenges. In most recent times, climate change, synthetic biology and gene-editing technology, digital currencies and nanotechnology, etc. are transforming the spectrum of civilian as well as military applications. These changes are significantly asking what role Science, Technology & Innovation (STI) will be playing in global politics. 

There are three different aspects that have been evaluated from the perspective of role of science, technology and innovation in foreign policy, diplomacy and international relations which are as follows:

  1. Science in Diplomacy - Using scientific advisory to achieve foreign policy objectives. 
  2. Science for Diplomacy - Using S&T cooperation to improve relations between countries. 
  3. Diplomacy for Science - Convening international scientific cooperation and getting foreign S&T inputs for indigenous progress. 

Therefore, considering the above points, integration of science into the global politics should be a primary focus of multilateralism. This will be helpful for the states in strengthening relations between the countries and their research and development capabilities. 

• Social Infrastructure: COVID-19 functioned as an eye opener for many countries for understanding the limits of their social infrastructure capabilities. This pandemic challenged healthcare, education, public facilities as well as transportation of the states in several different ways. Many emerging as well as least developing countries were struggling to provide even beds to COVID-19 patients while several found it very difficult to manage better digital education services to their students. If we look at the statistics, India spends a total of 3.6 per cent of its GDP on healthcare (public and private included) which is way lesser than Turkey (4.2 per cent), China (5 per cent), Russia (5.3 per cent), Mexico (5.5 per cent) and Brazil (9.2 per cent). Therefore, learning lessons from the past, countries should work towards strengthening the G20 philosophy of leaving no one behind, thus, supporting each other in building better social securities on ground which can further lead to multidimensional human development.  

• Innovation centricity: The one thing that was common in all above points is the role of innovation in the era of COVID-19. Whether it was for mass sanitization, cashless payments, low-cost ventilators, working remotely or finding a vaccine for treating novel corona virus; innovation has played a salient role in mitigating the problems which could have been worse. So, there is no denying the fact that the world post-COVID-19 will be innovation driven. Therefore, whilst there will be huge pressure on the countries to bring socio-economic normalcy to their citizen, they should not neglect that innovative solutions will be a way out from stress caused by COVID-19. As established corporates are struggling to balance in the market, innovation led to setting up a new entrepreneurship model which may help in generating more on-ground employment opportunities. So, the question is what role multilateralism should play in bringing innovation centricity? The answer for this question is to increase more facilitation of international technology transfers and collaboration in research and development between international universities. Such collaborations will be a win-win situation for states in terms of excelling in discovery of new innovative solutions, creating better employment opportunities through innovation for their citizens, and putting soft-power in global politics into practice. 

This blog is written by Prakarsh Mishra from AGNIi Mission.