UIS launches new data tool exploring investment in Research and Development

As the UN General Assembly prepares to address the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UNESCO Institute for Statistics has released a new data tool showing the leaders and emerging players in research and development (R&D) across the world.  

SDG 9 calls on governments to promote sustainable industrialisation and innovation by ramping up spending on R&D and increasing the number of researchers. Both indicators are featured in the new data tool: How much does your country invest in R&D?

The tool offers a global perspective on spending patterns, as well as time series data on regional and country-level commitments to R&D, in absolute terms and relative to GDP.

According to the data, the top five R&D performers in absolute terms (R&D expenditure) are all large economies: the United States, followed by China, Japan, Germany and the Republic of Korea. The ranking changes dramatically when viewed according to the indicator that will be used to monitor SDG 9 (R&D expenditure as a percentage of GDP): the Republic of Korea is the world leader followed by Israel, Japan, Finland and Sweden.

Spending remains low in most countries

Regions have been setting their own spending targets for some time. The best-known is the European Union (EU) target to raise overall R&D investment to 3% of GDP by 2020.

Only six countries worldwide have surpassed the 3% target, and three are smaller EU economies: Denmark, Finland and Sweden. These, in turn, lag behind Japan, with 3.6% and Israel with an impressive 4.1%. And all of them trail behind the Republic of Korea – the world leader – with 4.3%. Austria, Germany and Switzerland hover around 3%, as does the biggest spender of all, the United States.

Massive investment in R&D means China is catching up with the United States

UIS data also reveal the dramatic surge in R&D investments in East Asia, which is fuelled by China. As shown in the data tool, China’s R&D spending only amounts to 2% of its GDP, but this means that the country is pouring about $369 billion into this sector each year.

China is achieving an astonishing annual average growth rate of 18.3% in R&D spending, compared to just 1.4% across the rest of the world’s upper-middle-income countries, according to UIS data. This means that China is rapidly approaching the United States, which accounts for almost 30% of global R&D expenditure.