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Discuto

Is it time to stop naive innovation policies?

Participants: Jeroen van den Bergh (University of Barcelona), Miriam Hufnagl (Fraunhofer ISI), Katy Shields (Numeralysis), Michael Wiesmüller (Ministry for Climate Action, host), Hannes Leo (cbased, moderator)

The discussion about innovation policies was intended to go beyond the narrow confines in which innovation policies are usually designed, discussed and evaluated. More precisely, innovation and the promotion of innovation have been instrumental in increasing the competitiveness of companies and regions thereby fostering economic growth, employment and wealth overall. This growth-centred approach has come under scrutiny as its side-effects have become increasingly visible: unequal distribution of growth dividends leading to a broadening of income and wealth inequality, an ever increasing appetite for raw materials - most of them non-renewable -, a huge increase in (greenhouse gas) emissions that alter the climate dramatically, massive loss of biodiversity and untempered wildlife habitat that seriously threaten live on the planet as we know it.

The discussion addressed

  1. the relationship between innovation policies, economic growth and the state of the environment
  2. the role of economists that provided guidance and input to shape the decision of policy makers and politicians and
  3. the attempts to react to this challenging environment by innovation policy experts

ad 1) Jeroen van den Bergh cautioned that there are opposing views circulating on the consequences of growth and the need for growth:

  • The view that technology will help safe the environment and restore growth - green growth - is widely supported. Alternatively, many observers claim that exponential growth is responsible for the pandemic as the loss of wildlife habitats brings humans increasingly in contact with new pathogens that may cause pandemics. Continuing to grow just increases the likelihood of not just pandemics but also of environmental disasters.
  • Politicians are not yet decided which side to support and are obviously scared to implement significant measures to reduce the environmental impact of the economy.
  • Any transition to green technologies entails CO2 emissions: Green technologies are often produced by not clean industries.
  • The rebound effect is generally strong but not always taken into account: people change behaviour after opting for the environmentally friendly product, e.g. choosing an electric car takes away the guilt of actually driving it and may lead to an increase in kilometers driven. The rebound effect may reverse 50 - 100% of energy savings. Reducing emissions is thus at least half as efficient as we usually assume.
  • There are more complications: investments will have to be moved away from traditional innovation that aimed at increasing labour productivity. Green innovation will not increase labour productivity or yield smaller increases and thus will decrease growth. We should be prepared for lower growth. Personally he  does not care too much about growth.
  • We should not aim only at innovation policies but also introduce carbon prices which affect choices on the demand side of markets. Prices have a lot of impact on low carbon innovation. Historical examples, e.g. oil price shocks. Carbon prices will work through energy prices.
  • Jeroen suggests to develop science based strategies and not to worry about growth.

ad 2) Katy Shields has spent the last years researching what has gone wrong with economies and traditional economics after getting to know neoliberal belief systems from the inside. She offered a broad overview of economist's thinking and arguments over the past five decades:

  • Discussion on the limits of growth started the 1970s and marked the start of environmental movements which focussed first on clean water. Economists were very much against the arguments put forward by the Club of Rome and suggested to focus on getting people out of poverty first.
  • The debate in the 1980s suggested cleaning up the environment once we will be wealthier: let's become richer first - trickle down economics will do the rest.
  • In the 1990s, the depletion of the ozone layer made environmental problems more evident. Also the first climate conference in Rio on climate change was an important milestone. Still economists focussed on trade liberalisation in order to get developing countries out of poverty because this will also increase environmental standards and regulations. Rising income levels will also fix the environment.
  • The 2000s started with discussions on climate change and carbon taxation to effectively deal with externalities of the economic system. The debate focussed on the optimum between growth and environment. Financial liberalisation was seen as a source for growth of the economy that would then allow to clean up the economy.
  • In the 2010 - in the aftermath of the financial crisis - austerity policies and quantitative easing dominated the policy landscape rather than attempt to tackle environmental problems.
  • Now were are in pandemic and the future course is not sufficiently discussed nor obvious: is there ambition to change? What do we want from the economy? We need innovation but where are we going?
  • Economists are reluctant to develop a trajectory to an improved system but we only have two options: arriving there either by design or by disaster.
  • GDP is no longer the universally accepted measuring rod for wellbeing but obviously a too simplistic and misleading concept. Alternatives like the Sustainable Development Goals or happiness indicators or the concept of the "Donut Economy" represent different approaches.

ad 3) Miriam Hufnagl talks about the state pushing for research funding and innovative practices and approaches inspired by Marianna Mazzucato. In this new mission oriented approach public money may enable real change by setting clear and ambitious goals like circularity completing these missions for the common good.  As Mazzucato made clear many innovative technologies only came into existence because the public/state supported them; e.g. the creation of the iphone was only possible through the uptake and combination of these publicly funded technologies. Mission orientated policies ought to take clever ideas/innovation/research/etc. and develop them in combination with a mix of instruments in order to transform an entire socio-technical system.

  • The GermanHightech Strategy - e.g. - formulates 12 mission/cross cutting issues from fostering biodiversity to circularity and intends to come up with holistic and systemic policies. 
  • Miriam is advicing how to better roll out missions, i.e. formulating real missions without overhyping expectations, avoiding unreflected instrument layering and enabling coordination across policy areas. If the latter is not an option then tasks have to be separated and allocated across all players and governance layers.
  • Missions demand strong leadership and commitment and a time horizon that is in most cases out of line with legislative periods or the time horizon of politicians. Reflecting on the role of policy makers is helpful.
  • Indicators for assessing change at governance levels are much needed. How can we break down sophisticated models into pieces of information that let politicians assess change and thus gain confidence to make real changes that are expected by citizens and scientists.
  • Time of voluntary agreements is over. More governance is needed: so many experts - but impact is extremely limited: acknowledgement that evaluation results etc. do not diffuse into politics. Presently, there is a lot of talking but strategic capacity is missing on the policy maker side.

Cross cutting themes

Jeroen remarks that there is already a policy mix (innovation, carbon tax, regulations, standards, etc.) but there are some policy mixes that do not work, e.g. cap and trade systems and targets for renewable energies. The targets for renewable energies free emission right from the energy sector which are taken up by the other actors. This may increase emissions overall.

The rebound effect is only controlled by carbon pricing, because this increases the price of goods that are produced with high carbon emissions. Carbon pricing makes life for consumers simple. They may choose the cheapest product as this should come with low emissions. This system would be far simpler than e.g. eco-labels.

To overcome inertia and deal with the complexity of policy interventions, interventions should be designed as experiments, e.g. introduce a high carbon price for two years, monitor what happens and assess whether this solves the problem in an acceptable way.

Last but not least, give everybody a course in climate change. 

Katy points to the fact that price elasticities change as people get richer - most pollution comes from top 1%. There are many other ways to reflect about our economic system and find answers to obvious shortcoming of the system, e.g. grow everything organic, get rid of plastic, move towards a donut economy.

Miriam remarked that the many topics raised in this discussion would merit 1.5 days of discussion rather than 1.5 hours. She emphasises that

  • it is important to work with tools that are effective and efficient, once again pointing out the role of evaluation and expert knowledge 
  • the state should be consistent in its actions. The present regulatory system is plagued by inconsistent signalling  (e.g. its legal to “misinform” consumers on sugar content, tracing the origin of products with many components is nearly impossible ...)
  • that academic debates may be necessary but ambitious and clear interventions like a global minimum corporate tax as brought up by the US might be a game changer.

Michael Wiesmüller concluded that more of these beyond growth discussions are needed as this is not yet mainstream - not even in economics.

Policy coordination is the most complicated thing that one can imagine whereby defining a mission is a major issue

  • Good examples for mission orientation needed, e.g. health and innovation
  • The Popuphub should continue these discussions in the next 2 or 3 months with a different angle.

Michael sees a need and a large potential for "Tec for Green", e.g. software to predict shopping behaviour of young people. Why shouldn't we use these technologies to solve environmental policies? AI is not yet developed for environmental issues.

Summary and next round

The discussion somehow approached the topic of naive innovation policies but did not yet fully address it. Building blocks/key relationships - i.e. relationship between environment and economic growth -, the inconsistent role economists play (one branch developing environmental and climate change economics while the mainstream still focussed on growth) and the response of innovation economists to big challenges - i.e. mission orientation - where discussed.

Also - and this is a key issue - the right policy mix should be at centre stage. There are already studies on how different instruments can be combined - see e.g. Jeroen's work. Most of this focuses on instruments that are addressing environmental issues. For example, how can support for green tech be combined with adoption subsidies, a carbon tax/ a cap and trade system, and targets for renewable energies. While this is perfectly alright, the major part of innovation policies is not covered by this approach. "General purpose" innovation policies still aim at competitiveness and growth and may contradict environmental or climate targets. The main question here is if a carbon tax in whatever form can rescue these traditional - and somewhat naive - innovation policies?

 

 

 

 

 

Zukunftsszenarien „Ökonomische Puffer”: Entkomplexisierung der Welt notwendig

  • Produktions- und Lieferketten sind niemals resilient, weil lineare Ketten nicht stabil sind
  • Künstliche Intelligenz (KI) kann uns Entscheidungen in komplexen Systemen nicht abnehmen
  • Perspektivenwechsel sind keine Charakterschwäche, sondern notwendig, um in Zukunft zu überleben

Im Rahmen des COVID Pop-up Hub hat es das Bundesministeriums für Klimaschutz, Umwelt, Energie, Mobilität, Innovation und Technologie (BMK) ermöglicht, mit über 30 interdisziplinären ExpertInnen Zukunftsszenarien zum Thema „Ökonomische Puffer“ zu entwickeln. Die entstandenen Szenarien wurden am 4. März 2021 präsentiert und angeregt diskutiert.

In den vergangenen 20 Jahren wurden ökonomische Puffer, wie sie in einer Krisensituation notwendig wären, zugunsten von Wachstum, Profit und Effizienz sukzessive beseitigt. Die fehlende Resilienz und hohe Komplexität unserer Systeme hat sie infolgedessen sehr verwundbar gemacht. Fällt eine Komponente aus, bricht das gesamte Kartenhaus sehr rasch zusammen. Das haben wir jetzt in der COVID-Krise recht deutlich gesehen.

Im Zukunftsszenarioprozess haben sich die ExpertInnen daher mit folgenden Themen auseinandergesetzt:

  • Wie können krisenfestere Produktions- und Lieferketten geschaffen werden?
    Szenarien: Titanic, The Last Waltz, Running in Circles und The Sustainables


 

  • Wie können Nullsummenspiele vermieden werden und nachhaltigere Geschäftsmodelle entstehen?
    Szenarien: The Wolf of Wallstreet, The Godfather, Hunger Games, und Tomorrowland


 

  • Wie kann langfristiges statt kurzfristigem Denken in Management-Bonussysteme implementiert werden?
    Szenarien: Value Washing, Pippi Langstrumpf, Too Much to Handle und Six Feet Under


Wie sich an den gewählten Titeln erkennen lässt, beschreiben einige der Szenarien eine nicht wünschenswerte Zukunft und zeigen damit auf, was vermieden werden sollte, um nicht in einer „Hunger Games“-Situation aufzuwachen oder zielsicher wie die Titanic auf einen Eisberg zuzusteuern. Wichtige Erkenntnisse dabei: Produktions- und Lieferketten sind niemals resilient, weil lineare Ketten nicht stabil sind, Künstliche Intelligenz (KI) kann und soll uns Entscheidungen in komplexen Systemen nicht abnehmen und Perspektivenwechsel sind keine Charakterschwäche, sondern notwendig, um in Zukunft zu überleben.

Key Impact Indicators (KIIs) statt KPIs

Auf die Zukunft können wir uns vorbereiten, indem wir die Welt wieder ein Stück weit vereinfachen. Wenn wir z.B. versuchen wollen, Key Impact Indicators (KIIs) statt Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in Management-Bonussystem zu integrieren, brauchen wir einfache Modelle mit höchstens 8 Paramatern. Werden die Systeme zu komplex, rufen wir gerne nach Künstlicher Intelligenz als Lösungsansatz, sie kann uns Entscheidungen aber nicht abnehmen. Und lagern wir komplexe Dinge an KI aus, verlieren wir die Kontrolle.

Zyklische Systeme statt linearen Ketten

“Produktions- und Lieferketten sind an sich nicht resilient und krisenfest, weil lineare Ketten nicht stabil sind - fällt ein Glied in der Kette aus, bricht das gesamte Kartenhaus in sich zusammen”, so die ExpertInnen in der Diskussion. Wie können also resilientere Alternativen zu linearen Ketten in der Produktion und Lieferung aussehen? Ansätze aus der Circular Economy, Lifecycle-Prinzipien und Liefer- und Produktionsnetzwerke sind hier viel versprechend. Eine große Herausforderung dabei ist, dass wir noch zu wenig Erfahrung mit großen disruptiven zyklischen Konzepten haben. Dafür braucht es ganz neue Innovationskonzepte und globale Anreize.

Perspektivenwechsel fördern

“Bei uns werden Perspektivenwechsel ja fast als Charakterschwäche interpretiert”, brachte einer der ExpertInnen die vorherrschende Haltung gegenüber Meinungsänderungen in unserer Gesellschaft und der Geschäftswelt auf den Punkt. Das ist ein Problem, denn damit wir die ständigen Nullsummenspiele, die Zero-sum Games, in denen einer in dem Ausmaß verliert, in dem der andere gewinnt, endlich beenden, müssen wir nicht nur unsere Perspektiven, sondern unser gesamtes Mindset ändern. Ein verbindendes Wertesystem, das einerseits nicht von Krisen erschüttert werden kann, aber andererseits auch flexibel genug ist, um sich an veränderte Gegebenheiten und individuelle Bedürfnisse anzupassen, wird notwendig.

Über den Zukunftsszenario-Prozess:

„Der beste Weg, die Zukunft vorher zu sehen, ist, sie zu gestalten“, erklärte schon Abraham Lincoln. In einem Zukunftsszenario-Prozess wird daher mit Unsicherheiten, also dem Gestaltbaren, nicht mit dem, was schon fix und unveränderbar ist, gearbeitet. In 3 Szenario-Workshops mit über 30 unterschiedlichsten ExpertInnen aus Wissenschaft, Unternehmen, Startups, Physik, AI, Philosophie, Psychologie, Medien, Kunst und der Next Generation, also Jugendlichen, 3 Online-Diskussionen mit 574 Likes und 486 Kommentaren, einer Online-Ideation mit 40 eingebrachten Ideen und Experteninterviews mit dem Komplexitätsforscher John Casti und dem Israelischen Nobelpreisträger Dan Shechtman wurden Zukunftsszenarien zum Thema „Ökonomische Puffer“ entwickelt. Nicht, um die Zukunft vorher zu sehen, sondern um sie zu gestalten.

Mehr dazu finde Sie im ExpertInnenpapier „Zukunftsszenarien Ökonomische Puffer“, und zwar hier.

Die Präsentation zur Diskusisonsveranstaltung mit einer Übersicht der Szenarien finden Sie hier.

Kontakt:
Ursula Eysin, Red Swan
E: ursula.eysin@redswan.at
M: +43 676 96 838 96

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