Analysis | A ‘recado’ for CORFO and the Chilean Ministry of Science, Technology, Knowledge and Innovation


By Cecilia Ibarra, associate researcher at the Center for Climate and Resilience Research (CR)2

Climate action as a guiding mission for STI policy

A mission-oriented public policy is one that meets national goals. Science, technology, and innovation (STI) policy can be made to serve priority issues and decisively contribute to achieving goals linked to sustainable development, social equity, and public security and protection in times of disaster. With the Framework Bill on Climate Change that is currently being debated in the Chilean parliament, there is a clear goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and improve our adaptation to climate change.[1]. The legislative bill provides for a Long-term Climate Strategy that does not directly involve STI policy, but assigns advisory roles to Chile’s Economic Development Agency (CORFO) and the Ministry of Science, Technology, Knowledge, and Innovation.

This recado[2] (or message) argues that STI policy in Chile today is generally neutral and there is great potential to achieve changes of value to the country by focusing on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), guided by an emphasis on climate action.

The decision to orient public STI action toward sustainability and equity is, naturally, a regulatory proposal that could achieve broad commitment. In the public discourse in Chile there is consensus about the country’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs[3]) and it is understood that science, technology and innovation (STI) could play a role in achieving them (for example, in CNID, 2017; CNCTCI, 2019). The National Climate Change Strategy under which the Framework Law was proposed also mentions potential roles for STI.

The idea of making an explicit connection between STI policy and comprehensive development goals that emphasize sustainability and inclusion is not new.  This proposal has been receiving growing international attention since the 2008 financial crisis (Mazzucato, 2013; Edler et al., 2013, 2016) and has probably become even more central with the public health crisis linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mission-oriented public policy is important in the context of the debate on transformative policies for sustainability, energy transition, climate change adaptation, and public security (Shot and Steinmueller, 2018). In its recent discussions, UNESCO proposed adopting the mission of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to guide STI policies and programmes  (Bortogaray, 2016).

There is growing recognition around the globe, and in Latin America in particular, of the need for STI policies that go beyond increasing market competitiveness, as knowledge, learning, technology, and innovation have broader impacts that can be targeted more explicitly (Bortagaray & Gras, 2013). It has also been shown that if attention is not paid to distributing the effects of STI throughout society, then those effects tend to concentrate in more affluent sectors (Arocena & Sutz, 2012; Cozzens & Sutz, 2012; Sutz, 2010).

The importance of linking STI policy and its assessment to public values (Bozeman, 2002; Bozeman & Sarewitz, 2011) like equity, social justice, and safety in times of disaster has also been emphasized.  This means that innovation would not be considered merely for its economic potential, but also for the social changes it can bring and its effects on environmental and social sustainability (Smith et al., 2010).

The SDGs could serve as a springboard for this regulatory discussion, making the concept of sustainability and climate action a compass for public STI policies, provided that climate action itself takes into account impacts on equity, social and environmental justice, sustainable development, and security (for example the population’s food security during disasters). The proposed Framework Law on Climate Change establishes the principles of equity and transversality for government action and encourages the incorporation of environmental considerations linked to sustainable development in the instruments designed to apply the law.

In Chile, the programmes with the most resources for implementing STI policy are concentrated within two agencies, CORFO and the National Research and Development Agency (Agencia Nacional de Investigación y Desarrollo, ANID – formerly CONICYT). Funding is aimed primarily at subsidizing inventions that, for the most part, are neutral in character, meaning that they do not prioritize sectors or development goals. The few impact assessments conducted on programmes to stimulate innovation in Chile have concluded that real achievements are few, and uncoordinated among agencies and programmes (see, for example, Balbontín et al., 2018 and CNID, 2017). These two realities – the main focus on subsidizing investment in technological research and development and the low impact achieved – are also observed in other countries (Edler and Faberger, 2017; Edler et al., 2013). Furthermore, the concept of innovation has been limited in scope, centring on investment in research and very little on transference.

If STI policy would focus instead on climate action as a path to achieving the SDGs, it could take advantage of the great potential in talent and resources to serve priority objectives.  STI would then become a means for contributing to the achievement of goals valued by society.  The current focus on resolving market and system shortcomings has performed poorly, despite the substantial resources involved.

An emphasis on climate action could act as a guide for deep transformation towards sustainable development that is not only economic but social and environmental as well; it would also foster science, technology, knowledge, and innovation that supports progress towards the goals of de-carbonization, food security, and public health, as well as environmental and social justice.  This means changing how STI is valued, from a development goal in itself to a means for sustainable, inclusive economic development.  In this way, STI could help resolve the historic tension between environmental protection, economic growth, and social welfare.

The discussion presented here is not new to the discourse about STI policy in Chile. This message is a call to pick up the threads that have been left hanging, assessments that have not managed to achieve significant change, and, above all, it is an invitation to take advantage of the opportunity to lend substance to STI in Chile. Orienting STI policy to this mission, to the country’s greatest goals, by leveraging the entire battery of instruments at the government’s disposal and by involving all sectors (agriculture, public works, social development, energy, mining, etc.), is a project that could mobilize goodwill. That is the ultimate goal: to bring different stakeholders on board to solve the country’s greatest problems, without ignoring the effects on equity, social inclusion, and security.  Such transformations need guidance to ensure they are developed with social and environmental justice. As history shows, crises open doors to what was once deemed impossible…


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[1] This legislative bill entered the Senate of the Republic in January 2020, Boletín Nº 13.191-12, available at:

[2] Recado was the term that Gabriela Mistral used for a type of text that appeared in Latin American newspapers, including Chile’s El Mercurio, bearing a message endowed with a sense of urgency (Morales, 2011). As the poet herself wrote, it contains “encargos duro-tiernos para mis gentes, duros por el ímpetu de hacerse oír y tiernos por el amor de ellas” (hard-tender messages for my people, hard with a vehement desire to be heard, and tender with my love for them.”

[3] Chile as a nation has officially pledged to take action under the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs (2015), to eradicate poverty, care for the planet, and achieve prosperous development for humanity by 2030. More on the 2030 Agenda and SDGs at: