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  • Author: Amy Robinson, James Waldo
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: In mid-October, thousands of English and Welsh citizens received phantom alerts that they had potentially been exposed to COVID-19. A quick Twitter tour reveals the spiraling fear, frustration, and confusion that ensued. Even though National Health Service (NHS) later updated the app, built using an Exposure Notification System (ENS) developed by Apple and Google, the incident still amplified mass hysteria and confusion.
  • Topic: Science and Technology, Public Health, COVID-19, Contact Tracing
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Author: Nicola De Blasio, Fridolin Pflugmann
  • Publication Date: 05-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: The transition to a low-carbon energy system will likely shake up the geopolitical status quo that has governed global energy systems for over a century. Policymakers need to rethink the role their country could play in a new energy world. Renewables are widely perceived as an opportunity to shatter the hegemony of fossil fuel-rich states and democratize the energy landscape. Virtually all countries have access to some renewable energy resources (especially solar and wind power) and could thus substitute foreign supply with local resources. Our research shows, however, that the role countries are likely to assume in decarbonized energy systems will be based not only on their resource endowment but also on their policy choices. Renewable hydrogen is enjoying growing political and commercial momentum as a versatile and sustainable energy carrier with the potential to play a key role in the global transition to a low-carbon economy; and it is often described as the ‘missing link’ in global decarbonization—especially for energy intensive sectors where emissions are hard to abate and electrification is not the preferred solution, such as steel production, high-temperature industrial heat, shipping, aviation, and heat for buildings. But making renewable hydrogen a significant part of the world’s future energy mix will require defining new and innovative national and international policies while developing appropriate market structures aimed at spurring innovation along value chains; scaling technologies while significantly reducing costs; and deploying enabling infrastructure at scale. Success is possible, but this transformational effort will require close coordination between policy, technology, capital, and society to avoid falling into the traps and inefficiencies of the past. Renewable hydrogen can be used for both mobility and stationary applications. As a sustainable mobility energy carrier, it can power fuel-cell electric vehicles or be the base for synthetic fuels. In stationary applications, it can be used to store renewable energy, both at utility scale or off-grid, providing backup to intermittent renewable energy sources and serving as a carbon-free heating source. From a geopolitical perspective, whether future renewable hydrogen energy systems will be as concentrated as today’s oil and gas supply or decentralized like renewables is strongly related to future market structures, technology, and enabling infrastructure availability.
  • Topic: Security, Energy Policy, Science and Technology, Geopolitics, Renewable Energy, Hydrogen
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Author: Alan Ho, Jake Taylor
  • Publication Date: 06-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: Over the last year, there has been a renewed focus on improving American competitiveness in key fields of science and technology. Numerous bills and executive initiatives have been implemented or proposed to dramatically increase investment into science and technology. Recent examples, including the Endless Frontiers and the Clean Futures Act, use a wide variety of policy tools to advance research and development (R&D) along multiple axis. Here we consider the free market portion of these tools, in which the private sector plays a key role in determining topic and direction, while the public sector supports these activities through high-level directives, conditional contracts, and other mechanisms. While other approaches such as public purpose consortia and R&D tax credits have been considered elsewhere, here we focus on Advance Market Commitments. Advance Market Commitments (AMCs)are a powerful policy tool that can be used to ensure that America can retain leadership in technology fields such as climate change, computing, and medicine. In an AMC, a U.S. agency commits to buying some specified new technology before that technology exists. This provides a price, specification, and framework for evaluation that can streamline decision making and funding approaches in the private sector and accelerate progress towards well defined technical outcomes without being directed about the underlying solution and steps along the path. As such, AMCs represent a powerful option for ground-up technological building where private investment replaces the role of more traditional, blue sky government funding, and the larger market for the resulting product is jump-started by an initial government market.
  • Topic: Markets, Science and Technology, Vaccine
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Author: Mark Lerner
  • Publication Date: 06-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: We have seen software failures across every layer of government over the course of this pandemic. State governments have had significant issues with their unemployment insurance websites. Local governments have had outages and troubles with vaccine distribution services. Software systems at the Federal level have experienced significant security breaches. Trust in government is at “near-record lows,” in no small part because modern public services continually fail to meet people’s needs. The past year has shown that our public services continue to fail in the traditional ways: they cost too much, take too long to deliver, have a subpar quality, and regularly face security breaches. We have not made significant enough progress in improving government technology to prevent these troubles, let alone to provide effective, modern digital tools and technologies. Government services have largely not kept up with the raised expectations of the digital era, leaving many people without access to critical services they need. And yet, there is incredible momentum growing in the government technology space. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, we are seeing a wave of technologists from the private sector expressing deep interest in working in the government, with many actually coming into government for the first time. Anecdotally, I’ve personally heard from all manner of technologists—from fresh graduates to high-level executives— looking to work in the public sector for the first time. Thousands of technologists are applying for jobs at the U.S. Digital Service, and thousands more are signing up to volunteer with the U.S. Digital Response. These people are deciding to work and make public services better after years of becoming more aware of the ways in which our public infrastructure is failing our neighbors in most need. The federal government is also allocating more money towards these problems, in recognition of their severity. The American Rescue Plan gave $200M to the U.S. Digital Service, and $1B to the Technology Modernization Fund. The Biden-Harris Administration’s FY2022 budget request calls for even more money for tech modernization programs. These massive investments show that Congress and the Administration take these challenges seriously, and are looking for ways to address this years-long problem. If we want to have a lasting impact on the way that our country serves its people, we need to make the most of this momentum to address the root causes beneath these repeated failures. We need to focus our efforts onto the long-term work of addressing the systemic problems that cause our most critical services to fail when they are most needed. I believe that hiring more in-house technical talent might be a silver bullet to addressing the federal government’s technology problems. In this report, I hope to convince you that we need to make hiring in-house technical talent our number one technology priority in building better digital services.
  • Topic: Government, Science and Technology, COVID-19, Information Technology
  • Political Geography: Global Focus, United States of America
  • Author: Catherine McAnney
  • Publication Date: 06-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: Lessons from the software behind America’s immigration system show us why modern technologists, from product managers to designers, are needed in government now more than ever. We know government tech projects often fail. Timelines get pushed out, contractors rapidly turn over, costs increase, and, ultimately, public services fail to meet the needs of the American people—often just as they need them most. One of the major reasons for these problems is that the federal government does not have the modern technical talent necessary to deliver large-scale IT programs that consistently work for the end user. This does not just include software engineers, but designers, researchers, and product managers too. In this case study, we’ll look at this issue through the lens of one of the most storied federal IT programs—the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) Electronic Immigration System (ELIS). We found that the program had challenges with its technical talent through the burdensome, nontechnical oversight and the lack of technical expertise on the ground. This case study pulls information from 13 GAO and OIG reports between 2005 and 2021, as well as interviews with 6 current or former senior leaders within USCIS, with a particular focus towards the technical talent associated with the project.
  • Topic: Science and Technology, Immigration, Governance, Information Technology
  • Political Geography: Global Focus, United States of America
  • Author: Jake Taylor
  • Publication Date: 06-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: Tax credits for research and development are a means of incentivizing the private sector to invest their own resources on challenging problems. However, in practice, the fungibility of tax credits and other monetary elements can lead to misalignment between the public good represented by R&D and the actions of the company. In this policy brief, we consider the existing mechanism of tax credits. We see how they can encourage private sector risk-taking to enable research and development (R&D) outcomes. However, our goal is to go beyond economic growth benefits, and to include the less tangible considerations of public good and public purpose in the research and development domain. We then suggest an expansion of tax credits focused on supporting the researchers involved in the R&D and encouraging innovation in both large organizations and in startups and small businesses. This approach builds upon the existing framework of agency-led, mission-defined support of the private sector used by the U.S. government, as occurs in other programs such as America’s Seed Fund (sometimes known by its acronyms, SBIR and STTR). The integration of specific agency- and mission-focused elements to the credit system ensures that these additive credits support research and researchers whose R&D outcomes will improve the health, prosperity, and opportunity for the U.S. as a whole. Specific means of implementing this public-purpose R&D credit system under existing authorities within the executive branch are suggested, along with the public-facing mechanisms for creating and maintaining the evaluation approach of what constitutes “public purpose” as science and society progress.
  • Topic: Economics, Science and Technology, International Affairs, Tax Systems, Tax Credits
  • Political Geography: Global Focus, United States of America
  • Author: Nicola De Blasio, Charles Hua, Alejandro Nuñez-Jimenez
  • Publication Date: 06-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: The transportation sector is the second-largest source of CO2 emissions, after electricity and heat generation, accounting for about 25 percent of global emissions.1 However, it is also one of the most challenging to decarbonize due to its distributed nature and the advantages of fossil fuels in terms of high energy densities, ease of transportation, and storage. Moreover, the degree of difficulty in decarbonizing varies significantly across the sector, making the challenge even more daunting. So far, emissions reduction strategies have focused on improving vehicle and system-wide efficiencies, mode switching, and electrification. The latter is proving relatively easy for smaller vehicles that travel shorter distances and carry lighter loads. However, sector-wide decarbonization pathways will require a transition to low-carbon fuels and the deployment of enabling infrastructure to support innovation at scale. Renewable hydrogen holds promise in sustainable mobility applications, whether by powering fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) like cars, trucks, and trains or as a feedstock for synthetic fuels for ships and airplanes. Fuel cells convert hydrogen-rich fuels into electricity through a chemical reaction. FCEVs use a fuel cell, rather than a battery, to power electric motors, and operate near-silently and produce no tailpipe emissions. Hydrogen-powered vehicles offer key advantages, including shorter refueling times, longer ranges, and a lower material footprint compared to lithium battery-powered alternatives. However, high costs of ownership and a lack of enabling infrastructure are key challenges that must be addressed through policy support, technological innovation, and financial investment. Hydrogen can complement existing efforts to electrify road and rail transportation and provide a scalable option for decarbonizing shipping and aviation. Figure 1 summarizes the mobility segments for which battery electric vehicles (BEVs), FCEVs, and vehicles running on bio- or hydrogen-based synthetic fuels are most applicable.
  • Topic: Energy Policy, Environment, Natural Resources, Renewable Energy, Transportation, Hydrogen
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Author: Nicola De Blasio, Fridolin Pflugmann, Henry Lee
  • Publication Date: 08-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: Clean hydrogen is experiencing unprecedented momentum as confidence in its ability to accelerate decarbonization efforts across multiple sectors is rising. New projects are announced almost every week. For example, an international developer, Intercontinental Energy, plans to build a plant in Oman that will produce almost 2 million tons of clean hydrogen and 10 million tons of clean ammonia.1 Dozens of other large-scale projects and several hundred smaller ones are already in the planning stage. Similarly, on the demand side, hydrogen is gaining support from customers. Prominent off-takers such as oil majors like Shell and bp, steelmakers like ThyssenKrupp, and world-leading ammonia producers like Yara are working on making a clean hydrogen economy a reality. Despite the optimism surrounding clean hydrogen, key uncertainties remain. One of hydrogen’s attractions is that it can provide carbon-free energy in multiple sectors—transport, heating, industry, and electricity generation. But this advantage also creates uncertainties. The infrastructure needed in an economy in which hydrogen is primarily used as a transport fuel is very different from one in which its primary value is as a heating fuel. Today no major hydrogen pipeline networks exist,2 and no liquified hydrogen ships are in commercial operation. There is a true chicken and egg problem. If there is no infrastructure to move hydrogen, will investments in supply and demand happen at the pace needed to meet national decarbonization targets? This challenge raises an even more pressing question: what should be the respective roles of the public and private sectors in deploying enabling infrastructure at scale?
  • Topic: Climate Change, Energy Policy, Infrastructure, Renewable Energy, Hydrogen
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Author: Adam Moe Fejerskov, Maria-Louise Clausen, Sarah Seddig
  • Publication Date: 08-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Danish Institute for International Studies
  • Abstract: The use of emerging technology in humanitarian settings carries significant risks. The complexity of these risks entails a need to understand and imagine risks beyond those commonly associated with a particular technology, field, or implementing organization. Recommendations: Apply an extensive interpretation of what risks may look like, where, when, for whom, and how they might occur. The indiscernible nature of risks related to technology use means identifying or imagining these moves beyond existing organizational experiences. Recognize that technology-related risks can emerge across the data chain and are not only relevant for engineering or operational staff.
  • Topic: Security, Democratization, Development, Migration, Poverty, Science and Technology, Capitalism, Inequality, Conflict, Borders, Violence, Peace
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Author: Mohamed Aden Hassan, Sahra Ahmed Koshin, Peter Albrecht, Mark Bradbury, Fatima Dahir Mohamed, Abdirahman Edle Ali, Karuti Kanyinga, Nauja Kleist, George Michuki, Ahmed Musa, Jethro Norman, Obadia Okinda
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Danish Institute for International Studies
  • Abstract: Diaspora humanitarianism is characterised by rapid mobilisation and engagement that is built upon social networks, affective motivations, informal delivery and accountability mechanisms. This has implications for how it fits into the broader international humanitarian system. KEY TAKEAWAYS: ​​■ Diaspora humanitarianism grows out of transnational connections that link diaspora groups with their families and homelands. This relational and affective dimension enables rapid mobilisation and delivery to hard-to-reach areas. ■ Remittances to conflict-affected countries surpass official humanitarian aid six times, blurring boundaries between short-term emergency relief and long-term development. ■ Accountability practices tend to be informal and trust-based, structured around reputation. Overall coordination with formal political or humanitarian systems is usually absent.
  • Topic: Development, Humanitarian Aid, Migration, Poverty, Diaspora, Inequality, Fragile States, Economy, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Global Focus