How public research institutions can lead green innovation: The case of Poland

This page in:
University of Warsaw library Public research institutions can help address the demand for green technologies and innovations by investing in research and development. Copyright: Shutterstock

Stronger research and development (R&D) capacity and green technology development are critical to address the needs for decarbonization. How can this be done? How can public research institutions help address the demands for green technologies and innovations?

In a recent study, we examined how Polish universities and other public research institutions can support this development. Based on internationally comparable indicators, we identified four main challenges that research institutions face in leveraging their role and impact on green innovation.

1.       Poland will have to invest more in R&D to meet its climate targets and successfully transform into a sustainable and competitive economy.

Despite significant increases in total public R&D budgets over the last two decades, Poland still spends relatively little in R&D for climate change and sustainability. In fact, the share of government budget for R&D targeting the environment fell from about 6% in 2012 to less than 2% in 2021. Overall, in terms of total R&D efforts (relative to GDP), Poland invests much less than the EU country average of 1.85%, i.e., reaching just 1.39% in 2020.

2.       An increased supply of science and technology (S&T) specialists will be required as the demand for knowledge and technical expertise increases and regulations tighten.

According to a 2020 skills forecasts by the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, about 382,000 science and engineering professionals are expected to be needed between 2022 and 2035 in Poland. This makes it one of the top three most in-demand occupations in the country. Empirical studies have shown that the demand for S&T professions significantly increases with more stringent environmental policies (e.g., a 50% emission reduction target increased demand for engineering professionals by 4.5% in the US).

3.       Scientific performance has risen, but quality of research and international collaboration need to improve.

In terms of knowledge performance, publication activity in the fields of environmental research, and energy-related science, including renewable energy, has expanded dramatically in Poland, but it lacks international involvement and scientific impact (figure 1). Publication mostly targets domestic journals and Poland lags other European countries in terms of international collaboration. In 2018, only 35.8% of publications reported an international collaboration whereas the average in 28 European Union (EU) countries was 45.7%. Limited participation in international R&D networks limits the possibilities for Poland to engage in more novel and impactful R&D relationships with other countries.

4.       Poland needs to leverage public and private collaboration in research and innovation and expand the channels for knowledge transfer and co-creation.

To date, Polish research institutions collaborate little with the private sector. This is reflected in bibliometric indicators, university rankings, and industry funding of university R&D. For instance, Poland ranks last in the EU in public-private scientific co-publications as a percentage of the total number of publications. The lack of industry-science collaboration may reduce the relevance and impact of public research on green innovation, as well as hamper the process of technology adoption.

Figure 1: Quality of research in renewable energy, sustainability, and the environment (sub-category of energy research)

Figure on Quality of research in renewable energy, sustainability, and the environment

Source: SCIMAGO Country and Journal Rankings.

Note:  The indicators reported correspond to the publication years 1996-2021 based on Scopus® data as of April 2022. The h-index is an metric that measures both the productivity and citation impact of the publications. The h-index is defined as the maximum value of h such that the given author/journal has published at least h papers that have each been cited at least h times. In Scopus, this index is computed on articles that have been published since 1996. 

How can Poland boost innovation?

Addressing the innovation needs associated with the green transformation will not work with the same traditional policies and mindset. For public science and technology institutions, there are clear areas for action. 

  • For academia, key factors for engagement into green projects and industry-science collaboration are improved incentives in research and funding policies (i.e. prioritization of green projects and scale) as well as in evaluation frameworks.
  • Research institutions can also mobilize resources, including research and digital infrastructure and data systems,  to expand opportunities for open innovation and co-creation with firms and citizens. Examples include living labs and platforms for testing, prototyping and developing technologies, where together with external actors, universities can develop, deploy, and test technology applications, and tailor them to local contexts.
  • The hUB-Sostenibilitat Global from the University of Barcelona is an example of innovation hub which seeks to mobilize internal expertise to address innovation challenges related to sustainability jointly with external actors.
  • From the policy side, new efforts should give special attention to international partnerships, and promoting inter-disciplinarity in research projects -which is key for developing effective solutions to complex challenges associated with climate change.

Although it is not an easy process, the green transformation cannot succeed without the participation of public research institutions supporting the needs for new knowledge and technological competencies. These mechanisms are at the heart of long-run progress and more sustainable growth.


To receive weekly articles, sign-up here

Diego Ambasz

Senior Education Specialist

Pluvia Zúñiga

Innovation Specialist and Economist

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000