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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: Nicola De Blasio, Fridolin Pflugmann
  • Publication Date: 05-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: President Xi Jinping’s pledge during the 2020 United Nations General Assembly, that China would reach peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060, is a significant step in the fight against climate change. Since China is the world’s top contributor of greenhouse gases, there is no doubt that Beijing needs to be front and center of any effort to curb global emissions. In 2019, China accounted for almost 30 percent of global emissions, about twice as much as the second largest emitter, the United States.1 But while U.S. emissions have been on an overall decline since 2007,2 China’s have increased, raising concerns over whether Beijing can actually deliver on its targets. This reality should not distract from the fact that China is also the world’s top developer of renewables and other clean energy technologies. For example, China was the world’s largest installer of photovoltaics (PV) by 2013 and, in less than two years, also became the global leader in solar module manufacturing. At the same time, China leveraged its industrial might and economies of scale to drive down modules’ costs—which, by the end of 2018, were 90 percent lower than only ten years before. In this context, renewable hydrogen could significantly accelerate China’s transition to a low-carbon economy, increasing the likelihood of meeting its carbon neutrality goal. Renewable hydrogen offers significant advantages for China. It can help Beijing meet its climate and pollution goals—at a time when coal continues to dominate—while avoiding increased reliance on imported fuels. As a readily dispatchable means of storing energy, hydrogen can help to address intermittency and curtailment issues as renewable energy increases its share of China’s energy mix. As a sustainable mobility energy carrier, it can power fuel-cell electric vehicles or be the base for synthetic fuels. Finally, renewable hydrogen can open new avenues for developing clean technology manufactured goods for both internal and export markets. Today, most of China’s hydrogen is produced from coal via 1,000 gasifiers, accounting for 5% of the country’s total coal consumption. Hydrogen costs vary significantly as a function of production technology and prices of fossil fuels and electricity. Production from coal remains the lowest cost option: about 30 percent cheaper than hydrogen from natural gas. Therefore, reducing the carbon footprint of coal-based hydrogen will be critical in a low-carbon economy. In the medium term, coal-based hydrogen with carbon capture, utilization and storage will likely remain China’s lowest-cost clean hydrogen production pathway. Hence, the underlying question is whether Beijing will prioritize cost considerations or put its full industrial might behind the development and deployment of renewable hydrogen. In March 2019, the Chinese government took a significant step forward by announcing measures to promote the construction of hydrogen facilities for new energy vehicles. Wan Gang, who is known as China’s “father of the electric car,” called for China to “look into establishing a hydrogen society” and “move further toward fuel cells.”3 Given that Gang made a similar call two decades ago on vehicle electrification, which played a key role in China’s current battery electric vehicles market dominance, close attention is warranted.
  • Topic: Security, Energy Policy, Environment, Natural Resources, Renewable Energy, Hydrogen
  • Political Geography: China, Asia-Pacific
  • 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: Ian D. Henry
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: International Security
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: Leaders often believe that states that demonstrate disloyalty toward an ally will acquire a reputation for disloyalty, and thus damage other alliances. But in some circumstances, excessive loyalty to one ally can damage—perhaps even destroy—other alliances. The First Taiwan Strait Crisis (1954–55) shows that alliance interdependence is governed not by a reputation for loyalty, but by assessments of allied reliability.
  • Topic: Security, History, Partnerships, Alliance, State
  • Political Geography: Taiwan, Asia, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Risa Brooks
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: International Security
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: The U.S. military’s prevailing norms of military professionalism are poorly suited to meet today’s civil-military challenges. These norms, based on Samuel Huntington's objective civilian control model, argue that the military should operate in a sphere separate from the civilian domain of policymaking and decisions about the use of force. Yet, these norms also undermine the military’s nonpartisan and apolitical ethos, weaken civilian leaders' control of military activity, and undercut the country’s strategic effectiveness in armed conflict.
  • Topic: Government, Military Affairs, Public Policy, Norms
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: Christopher Lawrence
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: International Security
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: The 1994 Agreed Framework called for North Korea to dismantle its plutonium-production complex in exchange for civilian light water reactors (LWRs) and the promise of political normalization with the United States. Today, scholars look back at the Agreed Framework as a U.S. offer of “carrots” to bribe the regime, but this framing overlooks the credibility challenges of normalization and the distinctive technical challenges of building LWRs in North Korea. Political and technical analysis reveals how the LWR project helped build credibility for the political changes promised in the Agreed Framework.
  • Topic: Nuclear Weapons, Politics, Science and Technology, History, Infrastructure, Crisis Management, Normalization
  • Political Geography: Asia, North Korea, North America, Korea, United States of America
  • Author: Sheena Chestnut Greitens, Myunghee Lee, Emir Yazici
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: International Security
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: In early 2017, the Chinese Communist Party changed its internal security strategy in Xinjiang, escalating collective detention, ideological re-education, and pressure on Uyghur diaspora networks. This strategy shift was likely catalyzed by changing perceptions of Uyghur involvement in transnational Islamic militancy in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, heightening perceived domestic vulnerability to terrorism.
  • Topic: Security, Human Rights, Minorities, Counter-terrorism, Repression
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, Xinjiang
  • Author: Ketian Zhang
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: China’s coercive behavior in the post–Cold War period suggests three patterns. First, China uses coercion when it wants to establish a reputation for resolve. Second, China has been a cautious bully, resorting to coercion only infrequently. Third, when China perceives the “geopolitical backlash cost” of military coercion to be high, it chooses instead to use sanctions and grayzone coercion. (“Geopolitical backlash cost” refers here to the possibility that the target state will seek to balance against China, with the potential for U.S. military involvement.) When China perceives the geopolitical backlash cost to be low, it is more likely to use military coercion.
  • Topic: Sovereignty, Power Politics, Geopolitics, Economy
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, South China Sea
  • Author: Eve Lee
  • Publication Date: 09-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) have rapidly evolved from a sci-fi concept to a plausible alternative to cash that is being studied by central banks all over the world. According to a Belfer Center tracker, over 50 central banks have pursued or are engaging in CBDC work as of August 2020. However, while 10 central banks have already piloted or announced plans to pilot a CBDC in the near term, most are in the early stages of research and experimentation. In this brief, we outline the common motivations driving central bank work on CBDCs. We then explore CBDCs’ potential impacts on financial inclusion, a primary motivation in developing and emerging markets that has also gained significant traction in developed economies during the COVID-19 related global recession. We conclude that for CBDCs to achieve its financial inclusion goals, more technical advancement in offline adaptability and policy deliberations around issues of identity and traceability are needed.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Economics, International Trade and Finance, International Affairs, Monetary Policy
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Author: Jake Taylor
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: Imagine a speculative technology, one that is destined to change lives and improve the world, but also one where many scientific and practical questions remain to be answered. Companies and entrepreneurs, already seeing the potential, have begun spinning up new efforts and launching startups to realize products and services. You know that investors are likely underestimating both the difficulty posed by the technology and the long-term impact. The science and engineering remain far from that necessary to achieve those goals, much less understand the unintended consequences. You are now tasked with enabling the economic growth implied by these opportunities while ensuring both scientific progress and minimizing unintended negative outcomes. What do you do? Faced with this challenge in the still esoteric field of quantum information science, leaders in the Government and I worked with stakeholders from across the United States and around the world to build a foundational approach for this new technology. Rather than using a roadmap with product or milestone driven development, we instead focused on building a community around the emerging technologies and scientific challenges necessary to build quantum computers. These are devices that operate at the very limits set by nature in what and how they compute and are fantastically hard to create – so much so that their basic operation and architecture are areas of active research. And their impact is fantastically broad, thus the need to both temper expectations and enable cooperation. In executing a program to enable this new sector, we developed a specific approach for solving the challenge of blending profit motive and public good that leverages the mechanism of consortia. We are at a moment in time where cooperation between public-purpose stakeholders and profit-motive stakeholders can be an effective means of integrating public purpose into technology as it emerges. This brief covers the basic concept of a public-purpose consortium (PPC), examination of what combination of factors lead to their use for emerging technologies, and considers the key principles for organizing PPCs and enabling their success: Build Community, Enable Cooperation, Ensure Value, Institute Governance, and Keep It Lightweight.
  • Topic: Science and Technology, Stakeholders, Engineering
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Author: Henry Lee, Abigail Mayer
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: Corporations, organizations, and even governments are purchasing offsets to reduce their carbon footprint. This policy brief provides an overview of the offset process – who buys them, who produces them, and who certifies them; describes the emerging challenges facing this market; and makes recommendations for the future.
  • Topic: Climate Change, Energy Policy, Carbon Emissions, Decarbonization
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: The top priority in a cyber crisis or in the face of mis and disinformation, will be to maintain public trust. The most effective way to achieve that goal is to respond confidently and quickly. Although response to both types of incidents will differ, there are a number of common best practices you can apply in your preparation ahead of election day. This summary guide helps detail common and specific responses to each type of incident.
  • Topic: Communications, Elections, Misinformation , Cyberspace
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: This election has already faced threats from cyber adversaries seeking to influence its outcome. The joint CISA-FBI alert confirming Russian state-sponsored activity targeting government networks on October 22 builds on other advisories around potential cyberattacks on election systems ahead of the election, including advisories of DDOS attacks against election infrastructure. Making unplanned or last-minute changes ahead of election day can introduce serious risks, especially given the short window to test changes. Here are some considerations as you work to address and prepare to counter potential cyber threats.
  • Topic: Security, Science and Technology, Infrastructure, Elections, Cybersecurity
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States of America
  • Author: Izzy Ernst, Grace Pringle
  • Publication Date: 11-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: The one good news story of 2020 seems to have been the rise of female leadership. In April, a Washington Post headline declared that female leaders were “hailed as voices of reason amid the coronavirus chaos.” High-profile figures like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen emerged as perfect foils to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.S. President Donald Trump. Since then, our research confirmed that male-led countries had 1.9 times more COVID-19 deaths per million than their female counterparts during the first five months after outbreak or roughly the first wave of coronavirus.1 However, despite the appealing headlines, our research also found that there is a catch: female leaders did not perform better because of their sex, but rather because of their leadership skills. We tested four popular theories commentators put forward to explain the coronavirus gender gap. Were female leaders more likely to: involve experts in decisions, show empathy, communicate instructions clearly, or take early action to avoid loss of life? These traits roughly track with leadership research that suggests that female leaders are more likely to be participative or democratic, other-directed, and risk averse. In contrast, male leaders tend to be authoritarian, self-directed, and risk-takers. These trends may be explained by socialization and experiences of women. As Professor Zoe Marks notes, “women in male-dominated fields often incur penalties for assertive, power-seeking behavior.” Men and white people also tend to perceive risks as less likely than women and people of color respectively. However, it turns out none of the leadership behaviors we analyzed are correlated with women any more than with men. Successful leaders with the fewest COVID-19 deaths—wonder woman New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as well as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison—share two leadership traits in common: early, decisive action and clear, instructive communication. They locked down earlier and communicated clearly, plainly explaining harsh realities, instructions and warnings. No one can argue that President Trump’s statement that “like a miracle, [COVID] will disappear” has aged well.
  • Topic: Women, Leadership, Crisis Management, Public Health, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: America’s Intelligence Community (IC) faces a daunting array of traditional national security challenges. Terrorism remains a persistent global problem in form of Islamic extremism as well as far-right nationalism. Russia, China and other nation state threats have become a higher priority after a long period of neglect. Regional conflicts simmer and occasionally boil over, reminding us that our agencies must provide global coverage. And we are now engaged in perpetual cyber conflict, with ambient digital espionage and conflict raging across global networks. At the same time, the Covid-19 pandemic has shown us that there are other threats to national security which require our intelligence agencies to broaden their focus beyond the familiar threats that have defined their missions since inception. America’s intelligence agencies must be able to support our national response to the existential challenges of our time - pandemic and biothreats, climate change, and nuclear insecurity. Each represents a high probability and high consequence set of risks for the nation and the world. As a President-Elect Biden’s team prepares to assume power, it should examine: Independence: Has political interference degraded the IC’s capability to collect and protect intelligence, and has the IC’s independence and objectivity eroded? How can we ensure that political interference never degrades IC capabilities and objectives? Priorities: How well prepared is our Intelligence Community (IC) to play its role of providing warning, perspective and options in a new world of disinformation, pandemic and climate change? Keeping Pace: Has the IC’s ability to provide intelligence needed to keep America safe kept pace with the rapid changes in technology and society?
  • Topic: Security, Intelligence, Public Policy
  • Political Geography: North America
  • Author: Cecilia Springer
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: China announced it would launch a national carbon market in 2017, yet this policy is taking years to come into effect. What will it take for a carbon market to work in command-and-control China? This policy brief explores an understudied challenge—emissions accounting—and identifies potential opportunities that have arisen in the first phase of China’s national carbon market.
  • Topic: Climate Change, Economics, Energy Policy, Environment, Natural Resources, Carbon Emissions
  • Political Geography: China, Asia-Pacific
  • Author: Rabah Arezki, Aitor Erce
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—face the dual shock of a pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus and a persistent collapse in oil prices. Because of the dual shock, the growth downgrade for the GCC as a whole is 7.5 percentage points in 2020 (World Bank, 2020). This can be considered as the cost of the dual shock—Arezki and others, 2020. But there is wide uncertainty about the estimate, which could be even higher. GCC countries must act collectively and boldly today to reduce the risk of an economic depression. A delayed and tenuous response may force authorities to spend even more in the future to, among other things, rescue cash-strapped members, as non-performing loans and bankruptcies become widespread (Ari et al., 2020). A powerful joint mechanism to cushion the blow, and ensure solidarity and stability of the GCC is warranted.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Civil War, Political stability, Conflict, Gulf Cooperation Council
  • Political Geography: Middle East
  • Author: Colin O'Leary
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: Synthetic biology (sometimes referred to as “SynBio”) is broadly defined as the application of engineering principles to biology, and in practice, refers to emerging technology that allows living organisms to be modified to serve user-defined purposes. While traditional biotechnology involves the transfer of smaller amounts of genetic material from one biological species to another, synthetic biology will permit the inten- tional construction of an entire organism.1 It has the potential to allow scientists to design living organisms distinct from any found in nature and to redesign existing organisms to have novel or enhanced qualities.2 The use cases of synthetic biology range from developing new therapeutics and vaccines for infectious disease to manufacturing novel biomaterials, biosensors, and biofuels. As scientists better understand biological systems, the potential applications of SynBio are anticipated to expand in scale and scope. The continued growth of the bioeconomy—defined as the “production, utilization and conservation of biological resources, including related knowledge, science, technology, and innovation, to provide information, products, processes and services across all economic sectors”—is giving space for synthetic biology technology to become a more significant part of the overall economic landscape.3 As with any technology that has a high potential for impact, SynBio presents a variety of pronounced opportunities, as well as risks. As the technology continues to mature and the number of market-ready applications grows, it is important for policymakers to consider how to promote the large number of opportunities the technology presents in the space of health and medicine, energy production, environmental recovery, food production, and more, while simultaneously protecting the public from foreseeable negative impli- cations and risks, such as weaponization, consumer safety, and ecological stability. Since synthetic biology bears significant similarities to previous biotechnology research on genetical- ly-modified organisms and recombinant DNA, existing regulations in the United States place the majority of synthetic biology products into the current biotechnology regulatory framework. As SynBio becomes more prominent though, it will be important for regulatory schemes to uniquely target the technology and its implications beyond those captured through biotechnology frameworks. Policymakers must continue to engage in the progression of the technology, understanding how regulation and governance must evolve to ensure the public can realize the opportunities, while being protected from the risks.
  • Topic: Health, Science and Technology, Biology
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Author: Akhil Iyer
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: Quantum computing refers to the use of quantum properties—the properties of nature on an atomic scale—to solve complex problems much faster than conventional, or classical, computers. Quantum computers are not simply faster versions of conventional computers, though they are a fundamentally different computing paradigm due to their ability to leverage quantum mechanics. Harnessing quantum properties, namely the ability for the quantum computer bits (called “qubits”) to exist in multiple and interconnected states at one time, opens the door for highly parallel information processing with unprecedented new opportunities. Quantum computing could potentially be applied to solve important problems in fields such as cryptography, chemistry, medicine, material science, and machine learning that are computationally hard for conventional computers. Although it is still unclear which specific tasks can benefit from parallelized quantum processing, known as quantum parallelism, it is expected that solutions to a number of problems, especially those related to optimization, can be greatly accelerated by using a quantum computer. Though the field is still in its early stages, the anticipated opportunities offered by the unique computational power of quantum computers have attracted investment from not only research universities, but also startups, technology giants like Google, IBM and Microsoft, and directed investment by governments around the world. This cross-sectoral ecosystem has supported recent progress in underlying hardware, software, and algorithms necessary to make the computers work. The field has seen rapid advancement, however systems that can accomplish various kinds of computation, and especially those that can be commercially viable, are still likely to be decades away. There are expected to be some near- term applications on the horizon though, making quantum computing as relevant as ever. Currently, U.S. governance and regulation regarding quantum computing—a subset of the broader field of quantum information science, which also encompasses quantum communication and quantum sensing—focus on investments in the technical knowhow, collaborative research ecosystem, and human capital required to advance the technology. Given quantum computing’s potential for impact, especially in the fields of digital security, healthcare, energy, and machine learning and artificial intelligence, it is important for policymakers to understand the likely trajectories of the technology over the coming decades, as well as the pace of development both within the U.S. and abroad. Furthermore, policymakers must consider how to effectively promote the development, application and implementation of general-purpose quantum technologies to realize their larger economic and social benefits, while simultaneously mitigating foreseeable risks to privacy, safety, security, and inclusion.
  • Topic: Security, Science and Technology, Governance, Regulation, Privacy, Quantum Computers
  • Political Geography: United States of America
  • Author: Shefali Khanna, Kevin Rowe
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: In September 2017, the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (DERC) required that the city’s regulated electricity distribution utilities pay compensation to customers experiencing power outages of three hours or longer. The measure was intended to incentivize the utilities to invest in the infrastructure and management practices needed to deliver higher levels of service quality. In 2019, India’s central government announced that it was considering rolling out a similar policy for utilities across the country. Can outage compensation policies help India’s power system achieve better reliability for all customers? This policy brief describes the persistent challenge of poor electricity reliability in India and how it interacts with key regulatory policies, analyzes Delhi’s experience with outage compensation since 2017, and highlights areas for additional economic and policy research on this topic.
  • Topic: Energy Policy, Environment, Natural Resources, Infrastructure, Economic Policy, Electricity
  • Political Geography: South Asia, India, Asia-Pacific