22 Sep 2020   |   News

Final proposals for research moonshots presented to the European Commission

The scope of Horizon Europe research missions became clearer, as mission boards handed over their final recommendations at the EU Research and Innovation Days meeting. Next comes haggling over the budgets in time for the launch in 2021  

RI Days

The Mission Boards deliver their advice to the Commission at the RI Days event. Photo: Twitter.

The mission boards have handed over their final recommendations to the European Commission on the shape of the EU‘s five moonshots at the European Research and Innovation Days, leaving haggling over the exact budgets as the final step before launching the new-look projects.

Welcoming the five reports, EU research commissioner Mariya Gabriel said the missions will take a new approach to research and innovation. “It is not like we have not tried [to address the issues] before,” she said. “Millions are spent every year using dispersed initiatives.” The missions will take a holistic approach, she said.

Virgilijus Sinkevičius, EU oceans and fisheries commissioner said the missions will help to bring the European Green Deal to life. The COVID-19 crisis is a wakeup call, “to finally get on with the fundamental changes we have been talking about for so long,” said Sinkevičius.

The commission published outline plans for the missions in June, and since then mission boards have been working on consolidating the reports.

On the face of it, the goal for the oceans mission has been watered down. In June, the board proposed, “the full recovery and regeneration of European marine and freshwater ecosystems by 2030”, but in the report handed to the commission today, the aim is “to know, restore and protect our ocean and waters by 2030.”

With submissions complete, the commission will assess the recommendations, assign each mission a budget under different EU programmes, and ask the boards to match the plans with the proposed budgets, before the official launch of the programmes in 2021.

Here is what we know about the five research moonshots:

Healthy oceans

The updated oceans mission aim - to know, restore and protect our ocean and waters by 2030 -  will be achieved by reducing human pressures on marine and freshwater environments; restoring degraded ecosystems; and sustainably harnessing the goods and services seas and waters provide.

Individual elements will include building a virtual model of Europe’s oceans and waters; making fishing carbon neutral; retrofitting ferries to make them greener; banning single use plastic; and running a European water literacy programme.

Delivering on the ambition will depend on citizen engagement and better governance of European waters. The latter, the board recommends, should be addressed by establishing an EU hydrosphere agency by 2030. The current governance model is politically and administratively, “all over the place,” said the chair of the mission board and former director general of the World Trade Organisation, Pascal Lamy.

The board’s proposal says it will cost €500 billion over the next seven years to achieve these goals.

Lamy said the story of the oceans mission is quite simple: seas are in deep trouble because we keep damaging them. The problems that need to be addressed are “horribly complex,” he said. The sources and causes of ocean degradation interact; hence there is a need for a holistic, comprehensive approach, said Lamy.

Beating cancer

The goal of the cancer mission remains to save more than three million lives by 2030 and to ensure survivors live longer and in better health.

An umbrella term for over 200 different diseases, “cancer is a growing challenge for Europe,” said the chair of the mission board, Walter Ricciardi, president of the Italian National Institute of Health.

The mission will address prevention; diagnostics and treatment; improving the quality of life of cancer patients, survivors and their carers; equitable access to all the areas; and underpinning it all, better understanding of cancer.

“Cancer can be conquered. We will conquer it,” Ricciardi said, handing over her board’s report.

In response, EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said, “These objectives mirror Europe’s beating cancer plan, which is coming later this year.” The mission and the new plan will be tightly interlinked, she said.

Climate neutral cities

The goal of the cities mission is to support, promote and showcase 100 European cities in a “systemic transformation towards climate neutrality by 2030.”

Cities occupy three per cent of the land on earth, yet produce about 72 per cent of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Climate neutral cities will lead the way towards achieving Europe’s climate goals, said the chair of the mission board and the former mayor of Warsaw, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz.

The cost is not specified, but the board wants the European Investment Bank to provide financing to cities on their way to carbon neutrality. The board also recommends a significant contribution from the EU, suggesting 10 per cent of the budget under relevant programmes, such as Horizon Europe, could support the mission.

Healthy soils

The healthy soils mission board has stayed with the goal to “ensure that 75 per cent of soils are healthy by 2030 and are able to provide essential ecosystem services.”

While the goal has not changed since June, the board has added more depth to the plan, highlighting the importance of a systematic, cross-disciplinary approach to soil research. “Knowledge exists within individual disciplines, but there is hardly any integrated knowledge on soil health combining insights from various disciplines and sectors,” notes the mission report.

There is no comprehensive data on how much of European soil is unhealthy. Estimating the percentage of healthy soils was the board’s first job, said chair of the mission board, Netherland’s former agriculture minister, Cees Veerman.

Veerman said that in some regions the goal that 75 per cent of soils are healthy will be an impossible task. To assist here, the mission has formulated different goals.

EU agriculture commissioner, Janusz Wojciechowski, said the mission comes just in time, “to work in tandem with the common agriculture policy and the European innovation partnerships.”

Climate resilient Europe

The mission for climate adaptation has three goals: preparing Europe to deal with climate disruptions; accelerating the transformation to a climate resilient future; and building resilience by scaling up implementation of protective measures.

The board wants to work with 200 communities around European to exchange data and best practices, and to set up 100 climate resilience demonstrator projects that can be adopted elsewhere.

Chair of the mission board Connie Hedegaard, a former EU climate commissioner, called on any interested organisations to get in touch and partner with the mission. “We can do even better in Europe by working together, and that is what our mission is about,” she said.

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