Three decades of climate and energy funding have revealed incremental funding for social science and interdisciplinary research funding.
A study by the Science Policy Research Unit of the University of Sussex Business School academics suggests that public funding for research and development is one of the most compelling instruments for the governance of climate change and energy systems and industrial decarbonisation innovation. However, existing datasets on R & D currently need to be completed, fragmented, and partial or regional in their coverage. The authors present the results of a study from a more comprehensive, granular, and descriptive attempt to compile a three decades dataset of global funding patterns on energy and climate research.
The researchers identify some technologies that could significantly limit the impact of climate change and accelerate energy transition but are hugely underfunded in terms of research. Moreover, these energy and climate change technologies are supported by a surprisingly broad inquiry base, including research from the social sciences and economics but also the arts and humanities, engineering and technology, life sciences and medicine, and natural and physical sciences.
Climate change adaptation research is the most funded general area, followed by climate mitigation via energy systems, followed by transportation and mobility, geo/climate engineering, and industrial decarbonisation innovation. However, the study reveals how funding has been allocated unevenly in favour of some specific technologies, e.g., resilience and adaption, energy efficiency, and electric vehicles. In addition, publicly funded research benefits a particular set of disciplines, e.g., communication studies, economics, computer science, and chemical engineering.
“The notable funding gaps our study has revealed in research topics identify a tendency of research funders to pursue hot topics by going along with the crowd or groupthink and also highlights under-researched topics that, perhaps, could be more deserving of exploration.
“Our research also argues that there is a need for funding agencies and research community to promote institutional memory, more transparency, and accountability in their funding patterns. This would facilitate a deeper understanding of historical implications of low-carbon transitions, connections between disciplines of theology, classic science etc., and the extreme weather events and mother nature that could help set new drivers and dynamics geared towards low-carbon sustainability.”
The academics also reveal in their study how priority areas for climate research funding have shifted over the years, with almost no topic remaining at the top of the funding list for a given period or a given general technology area. For example, the top-funded energy and climate mitigation technology in 1990 was nuclear power, but in 2020 it was energy efficiency. The top geoengineering topic was ocean fertilisation in 1990 but direct air capture in 2020. The top mobility option was passenger (conventional) transport in 1990, but electric vehicles in 2020. Moreover, the study suggests how funded projects contain a striking diversity of methods, including energy modelling, literature reviews, surveys and original data collection, the development of an intellectual property, case studies, and qualitative research.
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