Horizon 2020 zeros in on waste and aims to conserve water and natural resources

18 Dec 2013 | News
Building a green economy featuring the sustainable use of natural resources and resilience to the effects of climate change is the ambitious objective of the Horizon 2020 work programme, ‘Climate action, environment, resource efficiency and raw materials’

The era of seemingly plentiful and cheap resources is coming to an end, with raw material supply, water, air, biodiversity and terrestrial, aquatic and marine ecosystems all under pressure, says the Commission in its introduction to the work programme on ‘Climate action, environment, resource efficiency and raw materials, in which it sets out a wide-ranging package of research on topics ranging from waste reduction to adapting to climate change.

The objective is to de-couple economic growth from resource use by promoting the development of a resource-efficient and climate change-resilient economy, the protection and sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystems, and a sustainable supply and use of raw materials.

To build a green economy that is in sync with the natural environment, the Work Programme will address gaps in the knowledge base, to understand changes in the environment and come up with policies, methods and tools to tackle these challenges, and support innovators and businesses to bring green products and services to the market. 

Waste and water are particular priorities, on the grounds of their substantial potential for business opportunities and job creation, while also tackling important resource efficiency challenges. 

Efforts have been made to encourage SME participation, through the SME Instrument and innovation actions, where SMEs can get follow up research projects by getting funding for work linked to closer to market activities. 

In addition to the calls in this programme, research on climate action, environment, resource efficiency and raw materials will also be funded in three other programmes, 'Blue growth: unlocking the potential of the oceans'; 'Energy-efficiency' ; and 'Disaster-resilience: safeguarding and securing society, including adapting to climate change'.

Waste not, want not

Under ‘Waste: A Resource to Recycle, Reuse and Recover Raw Materials - Towards a near-zero waste society’ there will be ten calls in 2014 and 2015, with €73 million available in 2014 and €58 million in 2015.

As the Commission notes, a smart economy minimises waste production and reuses waste as a resource. Creating a near-zero waste society not only has an environmental rationale, it will drive competitiveness. Europe is at the forefront of innovation in waste reduction and the call intends to further boost this, to reduce environmental depletion and Europe's dependency on the import of raw materials.

The global waste market, from collection to recycling, is estimated at € 400 billion per annum and holds significant potential for job creation. The call addresses EU research priorities for 'Urban Waste and Innovation' identified through a consultation process carried out in the Seventh Framework Programme project. This identified 'economic instruments'; 'education and communication'; 'modelling business and consumer behaviour'; 'policy'; 'product /production design'; and 'waste treatment /management', as themes to be addressed. http://www.voicesforinnovation.eu/ 

The call also aims to deal with specific challenges in food, agricultural and construction waste. The Public-Private Partnerships on Sustainable Process Industries and on Bio-Based Industries will contribute to these objectives of this call. 

The overall aim is that by 2020 waste is managed as a resource, waste generated per capita is in decline, and recycling and re-use of waste are viewed as economically attractive options. 

Water, water everywhere

Water resources are under pressure from climate change, urbanisation, pollution, overexploitation of freshwater resources and increasing competition between various user groups. Improvement of the state of water resources, both in terms of quantity and quality, will trigger substantial economic benefits.

The world market for drinking and waste water was €250 billion in 2008, with corresponding investments of more than €33 billion per annum. Pollution of water from run-off, predominantly of agricultural origin, was estimated in 2011 to cost the EU €30 billion per annum. 

At the same time, the market for technologies to adapt to climate change – such as protecting from floods and droughts – is rapidly growing and the cost of repairing damage is estimated to be about six times higher than the cost of adaptation. 

There is significant potential to boost the competitiveness and growth of the European water sector, which includes 9,000 SMEs and provides 600,000 jobs in water utilities alone. A one per cent increase of the rate of growth of the water industry in Europe could create 10,000 to 20,000 new jobs, while synergies with other sectors could generate even larger returns, with some estimates indicating the application of ICT in water management and monitoring could produce growth of 30 per cent per year.
In total there are eleven separate calls relating to water, with €67 million to be awarded in 2014 and €189 million in 2015.

Innovation for a green economy

The call ‘Growing a Low Carbon, Resource Efficient Economy with a Sustainable Supply of Raw Materials’ forms part of an overall focus on investing in the development of a green economy. 

The Commission says multi-disciplinary research and innovation required to tackle this challenge in a sustainable way will entail pooling of knowledge and resources, and the active involvement of socio-economic disciplines. 

Actions under this call aim to support companies in commercialising eco products and encourage their take-up by public authorities. They will also help move towards a new era of climate information systems and services, providing accessible, high quality and data for the public and private sectors.
Given the transnational and global nature of climate and the environment, and the scale and complexity, research is foreseen at both EU level and beyond. In addition to bilateral and regional cooperation, there will be support for international projects.

The total budget for the calls in this part of the programme is €344.8 million in 2014 and €391.32 million in 2015


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