Supporting Scientific Research – Monthly RESEARCHconnect News Roundup

Welcome to RESEARCHconnect’s monthly roundup of funding developments and events.

Accompanying our regular news output, the RESEARCHconnect Content Team produces this monthly edition to provide the most complete picture for our clients and partners across the research sector.

European Commission Launches €1 Billion Finale to Horizon 2020 with European Green Deal Call

The European Commission has launched a European Green Deal Call for research and innovation projects that respond to the climate crisis and help protect Europe’s unique ecosystems and biodiversity. The overarching aim is to spur Europe’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic by turning green challenges into innovation opportunities.

The Commission is making €1 billion available under the Green Deal Call – the final call under Horizon 2020. The call is designed to respond to the climate crisis, provide more protection to Europe’s biodiversity and habitats under threat, and accelerate a sustainable recovery.

The Green Deal Call differs in important aspects from previous Horizon 2020 calls. Given the urgency of the challenges it addresses, it aims for clear, discernible results in the short to medium-term, but with a perspective of long-term change. There are fewer, but more targeted, larger and visible actions, with a focus on rapid scalability, dissemination and uptake.

The projects funded under this call are expected to deliver results with tangible benefits in the following areas:

Eight thematic areas reflecting the key work streams of the European Green Deal:

1. Increasing climate ambition.

2. Clean, affordable and secure energy.

3. Industry for a clean and circular economy.

4. Energy and resource efficient buildings.

5. Sustainable and smart mobility.

6. Farm to fork.

7. Biodiversity and ecosystems.

8. Zero-pollution, toxic-free environments.

Plus, two horizontal areas: strengthening knowledge and empowering citizens, which offer a longer-term perspective in achieving the transformations set out in the European Green Deal.

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth said:

‘The €1 billion European Green Deal call is the last and biggest call under Horizon 2020. With innovation at its heart, this investment will accelerate a just and sustainable transition to a climate-neutral Europe by 2050. As we do not want anyone left behind in this systemic transformation, we call for specific actions to engage with citizens in novel ways and improve societal relevance and impact.’

Applications to the European Green Deal topics must be submitted by 26 January 2021 (17:00 CET).

Research and Innovation Days Offer Glimpse of Future Research Initiatives

With the European Green Deal Call representing the final major call under Horizon 2020, focus is increasingly turning to the future of research and innovation in Europe, particularly ahead of the launch of Horizon Europe covering 2021-27. Against this backdrop, there was particular excitement this month around the second annual EU Research and Innovation Days, the European Commission’s annual flagship R&I event.

Held virtually in light of COVID-19 and attracting an unprecedented attendance of more than 35,000 participants from 188 countries in 146 sessions, the free-to-attend event presented an unrivalled opportunity to debate and shape the future of research and innovation to help propel Europe’s recovery and pave the way to a green, digital and resilient future.

Attendees were able to participate in live plenary sessions as well as workshops across 10 hubs, each covering a central theme in EU research and innovation policy, from the European Green Deal to digitalisation and smart implementation.

During the ‘Excellence and Inclusiveness: A Widening Strategy to Advancing Europe Together’ session on 23 September, Commissioner Gabriel confirmed that the Commission is planning a ‘Widening 2.0’ strategy as part of Horizon Europe to help newer EU Member States to improve their R&D performance and catch up with wealthier countries.

Europe produces 20% of the world’s leading research despite having just 7% of the global population, but lags significantly behind the US and China in terms of translating research output into leading businesses, and particularly so-called ‘unicorn’ businesses – privately owned start-up companies that are valued at over £1 billion.

Gabriel suggested that the new strategy would be based on six main concepts, helping Member States reform their R&D systems, improving connectivity in underperforming regions, attracting talent, building capacities, strengthening links between science and business, and enabling targeted research investments from structural funds.

The widening strategy will be linked with other EU funds and programmes, and help researchers collaborate with teams from around the world without having to move permanently outside their countries. ‘We can really help our talented people to choose Europe, to stay, to choose their regions,’ said Gabriel.

Another way in which the Commission is seeking to reduce the R&I divide both within Europe and between Europe and other major economies is via the European Innovation Council (EIC) Fund, which received significant focus at the R&I Days event.

The fund represents the first time the Commission has made direct equity investments in companies and aims to both produce and scale companies with high-risk, high-reward ideas that could help to support breakthrough technologies and bring them to market. Potential areas include resilience in the COVID-19 recovery economy, green technological solutions, companies that can aid the digital revolution etc. The fund is designed to help these solutions emerge quickly in a rapidly evolving global market.

While the fund has operated in pilot form for the last three years, it is set to become a separate entity under Horizon Europe and aims to have considerable impact. A Commission report published on the first day of the conference revealed that the EIC’s investment of €1.3 billion has so far garnered €5.3 billion in follow-up investments. The fund underlines the Commission’s desire to aim high and achieve significant results in the next Multi-annual Financial Framework to address Europe’s weaknesses and capitalise on its strengths.

The Missions

A particular highlight of the event involved the official handover of the final recommendations of the five Horizon Europe mission boards to European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel. The missions themselves are partly inspired by NASA’s Apollo 11 mission to put a man on the moon, and have been developed by a board of experts including academics, policymakers, business people and citizen representatives. Each of the five missions use the year 2030 as an endpoint and are designed to have clear targets and drive systemic change.

The five missions proposed by the mission boards along with their high-level targets and links to the newly published reports are as follows:

Conquering Cancer: Mission Possible – Targets by 2030: More than three million more lives saved, living longer and better, achieve a thorough understanding of cancer, prevent what is preventable, optimise diagnosis and treatment, support the quality of life of all people exposed to cancer, and ensure equitable access to the above across Europe.

A Climate Resilient Europe – Prepare Europe for climate disruptions and accelerate the transformation to a climate resilient and just Europe by 2030 – Targets by 2030: Prepare Europe to deal with climate disruptions, accelerate the transition to a healthy and prosperous future within safe planetary boundaries and scale up solutions for resilience that will trigger transformations in society.

Mission Starfish 2030: Restore our Ocean and Waters – Targets by 2030: Cleaning marine and fresh waters, restoring degraded ecosystems and habitats, decarbonising the blue economy in order to sustainably harness the essential goods and services they provide.

100 Climate-Neutral Cities by 2030 – by and for the citizens – Targets by 2030: Support, promote and showcase 100 European cities in their systemic transformation towards climate neutrality by 2030 and turn these cities into innovation hubs for all cities, benefitting quality of life and sustainability in Europe.

Caring for Soil is Caring for Life – Targets by 2030: At least 75% of all soils in the EU are healthy for food, people, nature and climate. The proposed mission combines research and innovation, education and training, investments and the demonstration of good practices using ‘living labs’ to experiment on the ground and ‘lighthouses’ to showcase good practices.

The missions represent a new approach to tackling some of the greatest challenges facing the EU and beyond. They will take a truly holistic approach involving all relevant actors, from politicians to multinational businesses, local governments to SMEs, academics to citizens, to achieve their aims. All but the cancer mission will also have a key role to play in helping Europe reach its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050, underlining the interconnectivity of their ambitions and the scale of impact the missions aim to achieve.

Explaining the new approach of the missions, Commissioner Gabriel said:

‘It’s not that we have not tried [to tackle these challenges] – billions are spent every year using disperse initiatives. Each of these initiatives may be doing a great job, but the whole does not match the sum of the parts. We all agree there is a need of a holistic approach.

‘The EU missions’ idea is to tackle these societal challenges in a new way: targeted, time-bound and with a measurable goal. They bring together policies and instruments as a coherent, joined-up approach to ensure a strong impact on society and drive long-term, systemic and disruptive change. It is a huge ambition that we plan to fulfil together for a sustainable Europe for all.’

The Commission intends to co-create the missions with citizens and stakeholders to ensure they are relevant and have genuine impacts. Each mission will be assigned a provisional budget under Horizon Europe. The mission boards will then be asked to align mission plans with the proposed budgets before the official launch of Horizon Europe in 2021.

RESEARCHconnect Coverage

RESEARCHconnect offers support via ongoing coverage of changes to funding and policy during the pandemic, helping the research community as it adapts to its new working environment and helping it keep pace with current and future funding support/strategies. We will also keep you informed of events overshadowed by COVID-19, but which will still have a huge impact before the end of the year, including the push for a deal between the European Council and Parliament over the Multi-annual Financial Framework for 2021-27, the planned launch of Horizon Europe, and the outcome of Brexit negotiations between the UK and EU.

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