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The G7 needs to integrate science & data into its policy

Updated: Jul 9

By David Laborde, Jaron Porciello and Carin Smaller

As the Heads of States from the G7 countries gather in Italy for their yearly Summit, there does not seem to be much reason for optimism. After more than two decades of growth, international cooperation is faltering. Conflicts have erupted in the Middle East and Africa, long-running humanitarian crises continue unabated, and our inability to take climate action continues to fuel more frequent and extreme weather events, such as floods and droughts.


The consequences of these crises are devastating. According to the latest figures,  an estimated 281 million people suffered from acute hunger and required urgent assistance in 2023. The United Nations, in its flagship report last year, estimated that hunger affected 735 million people worldwide in 2022. These numbers are significantly higher than prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. In comparison with 2019, 122 million more people now suffer from hunger.


In 2015, at the Summit in Elmau, G7 Heads of State committed to lifting 500 million people out of hunger and malnutrition by 2030. However, since this G7 commitment, the number of people affected by hunger has only risen.


Yet, the international community cannot be blamed for insufficient food security aid. Since 2000, the G7 countries have tripled their aid to agriculture and food security from 9 billion to 22 billion today, although current trends suggest that from 2023 onwards this aid is in decline.


Why, then, has the situation gotten worse?


The explanation is simple. Most of the increase in food aid has gone to emergency food assistance to respond to the growing humanitarian needs from climate, pandemic, and conflict-related shocks and ensuing crises. This emergency response to humanitarian crises is essential. However, it is extremely costly. And while the shocks may be inevitable, they transform into crises when countries lack the resilience to respond.  Unless we find better ways to secure long-term development gains, we will remain in a vicious cycle of crises.


Rather than continuing with the current trajectory, the G7 countries need to find ways to make better use of their existing budgets.  This requires investments in areas proven to have the greatest impact and make efficient use of resources.


To succeed, governments need to integrate science and data into their policy. Recent advances in large language models and AI must be harnessed to help policy makers understand what policy interventions do – or do not – work. Current data on aid spending must be tracked and analyzed to better understand who is spending what and where.


We benefit from scientific research through innovation and a new understanding of our world. Science uses a systematic approach to solve complex problems, relying on observation, experimentation and analysis to generate knowledge that is testable, replicable and subject to revision in light of new evidence and scrutiny by others.


Our information age generates and analyses data on an infinite scale. A soon to be published report, The State of the Field for Research on Agrifood Systems reviewed over six million scientific articles written over the past thirteen years and highlights where research progress has occurred and where significant gaps remain.


In addition, policy makers need tools to help understand and interpret the data relevant to their field of action. In the case of foreign aid, they need an accurate, timely and clear snapshot of how their resources are being used at a country, program or project level. They need to compare budgets between countries and across time. Such analysis, however, requires a common knowledge base.


Making science-based and data driven strategy and policy decisions in the allocation of aid is critical. The challenges, whether in combating poverty and hunger or mitigating against climate change, are complex and multidimensional. Aid budgets are increasingly constrained. Science provides a compass showing us a way out of the current quagmire.


With eight of the world’s most populous nations, including the European Union, holding elections this year, the future direction of international cooperation remains uncertain. Perhaps populism is on the upswing.


Yet, we do not need to fear radical policy changes or politically expedient decisions if we rely on science and data to make informed choices. Let’s call on the G7 to take the first steps towards removing politics from their long-term development aid by implementing the tools that allow policy makers to merge science and data with policy.

David Laborde, Jaron Porciello and Carin Smaller are the Co-Chairs of Hesat2030



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