Interview with the European Commissioner Mariya Gabriel (pt. III)

Valeria delle Cave

Interview with EU Commissioner Mariya Gabriel* in 4 appointments. It is an in-depth article that addresses the major issues of the European Commission towards research policy in the coming years

A different global threat is represented by climate change and environmental degradation. At the beginning of the 2020 European commission proposed the European Green Deal, that is a roadmap aiming “to transform the EU into a fair and prosperous society, with a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy where there are no net emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050 and where economic growth is decoupled from resource use”.  What will be the role of science and technology?

Becoming the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050 is a once in a lifetime opportunity to modernise the EU’s economy and society and re-orient them towards a just and sustainable future. Research and innovation are at the heart of the European Green Deal.

In December 2019, the Commission took the historic step of launching the European Green Deal. For the first time, we have looked beyond the current policy and investment cycle, with the overall ambition to turn Europe into the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. The European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, described the Green Deal as ‘a roadmap for action’ – that is, a long-term vision for the environment, involving all sectors of the economy, geared towards reaching the goal of climate neutrality.

Of course, I have to emphasise that the fundamental transformation called for by the European Green Deal requires unprecedented transitions across all key sectors of the economy and society. To trigger a real change in these fields, we need a bold research and innovation agenda that is forward-looking and impact-focused, with a massive scale-up of technological, social, business and governance innovation.

The European Green Deal Call will be the first concrete and tangible contribution of research and innovation to the transformations called for in the European Green Deal. With a budget in the order of €1 billion, it will directly address the main priorities of the European Green Deal. In addition to technological development and demonstration, it will lead to experimentation and social innovation, for new ways to engage civil society and empower citizens. The call will support the development of ideas into pilot applications and demonstration projects, and innovative products, experiments and approaches, able to show their value in practice and be ready for further scale-up.

Horizon Europe will play a pivotal role with at least 35% of its budget devoted to climate-related activities. Four EU missions are being developed in the following Green Deal thematic areas: Healthy oceans, seas, coastal and inland waters; Climate neutral and smart cities; Soil health and food; and Adaptation to climate change. These missions will develop and implement a bold portfolio of ambitious actions with the aim of achieving measurable goals within a set timeframe.

Moreover, a new generation of European research and innovation partnerships will come into play. The EU will work closely with Member States, industry and business, and academia, to support a new wave of research and innovation partnerships in key sectors such as clean steel, clean hydrogen, carbon neutral and circular industry, aviation and waterborne transport, bio-based industry, the built environment and biodiversity, blue economy.

Finally, digital technologies, such as the internet of things, big data, blockchain and artificial intelligence, will not only accelerate circularity but also the dematerialisation of our economy and make Europe less dependent on primary materials. Through them, the circular economy will provide high-quality, functional and safe products, which are efficient and affordable, last longer and are designed for reuse, repair, and high-quality recycling. A whole new range of sustainable services, product-as-service models and digital solutions will bring about a better quality of life, innovative jobs and upgraded knowledge and skills.

Mariya Gabriel* is the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth