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Sustainable horizons: Does our future depend on science?

The public S|B Annual Network Conference (09:00 – 17:30 CET)

Early Bird Registration

Behind the buzzwords that frame policy agendas for sustainability – net zero, pandemic preparedness, green deal, circular economy, etc – lies a wealth of opportunity for research and innovation (R&I) communities. Even before the COVID and Ukraine crises, governments, companies and others were pouring money into addressing the most “wicked problems” of our age, ranging from climate change and plastics to industrial decarbonisation and food production. In parallel, Horizon Europe – the EU’s flagship 95.5 billion R&I programme – will commit half of its budget to tackling global challenges through to 2030, in direct support of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).    

There are plenty of indicators from the R&D world to suggest this level of commitment is justified. From atmospheric carbon removal, nuclear fusion and quantum computing to lab-created meat, hydrogen-fuelled vehicles and cell- and gene-based therapies, the narrative is one of breakthroughs, “game changers” and huge potential. Even though some of these technologies may take years to reach the mainstream, the drumbeats of positive expectation grow louder.    

And yet. In the rush to champion the role of technology in delivering more sustainable futures, there is a sense that potential downsides are often overlooked. According to the International Energy Agency, the clean energy transition may require a six-fold increase in mining rare earth minerals and precious metals. Digital transformation continues to drive up emissions and carbon footprints in the ICT sector (without factoring in the energy needs of cryptocurrencies). Biofuel production continues to negatively affect food supply, forests and biodiversity. Meanwhile, the continued wrangling over COVID vaccine rights and distribution illustrates the tenuous nature of global health tech pledges. 

So what does all of this imply for the worlds of research, industry and policy? On 7 February 2023, the Science|Business Network and international R&I leaders will convene for a unique set of debates: first, to explore the science and tech agendas to bring planetary sustainability goals within reach, and second, to address some of the fundamental tensions at the interface between the two, including:

  • Which role for R&I in pursuit of the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals?
  • Will Horizon Europe make a tangible difference, and how will today’s crises influence the rest of its strategic agenda?
  •  Are the green and digital transitions truly compatible, and how to manage potential risks and unintended consequences of pursuing both in parallel?
  •  Where will boundary lines be drawn between international cooperation and national interests in sustainability-related domains, not least around technology sovereignty?
  • Can foresight help R&I decision makers agree on what to prioritise, and how to align investment with longer term impacts and outcomes?  
Preliminary Agenda

08:30     Registration and coffee

09:15     Ticking clock: What role for research and innovation in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030?

The opening session of the conference will explore the ways in which R&D and innovation can fuel a renewed ‘push’ to achieve the UN targets by the end of this decade.

10:00     Crystal balls: Will foresight help to anticipate the science and tech we need?

A short presentation from a leading futurist, reflecting on how foresight methodologies and analysis can strengthen the quality of long-term science and tech strategy and planning.

10:15     Coffee break       

10:45     Place your bets: How can tech investors drive the sustainability agenda forward? 

An interactive debate on the latest trends and investment agendas in the world of technology financing to develop and scale solutions that tackle sustainability challenges.  

11:15     The science of sustainability: A new paradigm for research and innovation?

A short Q&A with the head of one of the world’s largest research organisations to understand how sustainability challenges are ushering in a new modus operandi in the world of science: transdisciplinary, mission-driven, problem-oriented, and societally engaged. 

11:30     Transition break 


Crisis management: Delivering sustainable responses to unforeseen shocks 

Parallel town hall debates looking at ways in which the international R&I community can make societies and systems more resilient to volatile and unexpected events linked to: 

Session 1 – Climate Change

Session 2 – Health  

NB: Speakers in each session will primarily be Presidents, Directors General and senior executives from the Science|Business Network.

12:45     Networking lunch 

14:00     Triple helix: Can innovation, competitiveness and sustainability co-exist?

A live Q&A on with a leading policy-maker on how Europe – and its international partners – can balance the growing complexities of natural resource use, energy demand and supply, industrial value chain transformation, sovereignty vs. cooperation and more in the decade ahead.

14:30     Blurred lines: Is strategic autonomy compatible with solving “wicked problems”? 

A panel discussion on whether the principles of technology sovereignty and strategic autonomy can be reconciled with the global nature of sustainable development agendas.

Supported by the Science|Business Technology Strategy Board

15:15     Coffee break

15:45     Technology infrastructures: The key to sustainable transformation of industry?

A panel discussion to look at the role of technology infrastructures in strengthening industrial R&D, deep tech innovation, and bringing new technologies for sustainability to market.

16:30     Impact Horizon: Will Europe’s flagship ultimately help to solve global challenges?

A closing panel to address the contribution that Horizon Europe can realistically make to the global sustainability agenda going forward.

17:30     Close of conference and networking reception


Early Bird Registration

In case of any questions or issues concerning registration for the annual Network Conference, please contact Giovanni Bastianelli via [email protected]

Practical Information

For information surrounding possible sponsorship or partnerships of this Network Conference or other Science|Business events, please feel free to reach out to Sebastian Dohmen via [email protected]