Gospel of hope: Commission’s new research chief calls for optimism in the race against climate change

25 Apr 2023 | News

Marc Lemaître says Europe has a significant gap to fill in terms of the technologies needed to make the transition to a green economy - but it can be done

Marc Lemaître, the European Commission’s new director general for research and innovation, speaking at the Knowledge Valorisation meeting today

More science and technology breakthroughs are needed to overcome challenges posed by climate change, but the EU should not fall prey to defeatism, says the European Commission’s new director general for research and innovation, Marc Lemaître.

Speaking at a technology transfer event organised by the Commission this week, one of his first public appearances since taking the new job in February, Lemaître said Europe is in a race against time to cut carbon dioxide emissions and reach its goal of becoming a carbon neutral continent by 2050.

“We know that many breakthroughs in knowledge, in technologies [needed] in order to win that race, we do not have today,” Lemaître said. “[There is] quite a gap to fill.”

The EU plans to invest at least 35% of the Horizon Europe research programme budget in projects addressing climate change, across fields from energy to agriculture. The broader political goal is to use scientific and technological breakthroughs to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Pia Erkinheimo, the director of the Finnish Climate Fund, told the delegates at the Knowledge Valorisation meeting at the Commission on Tuesday that Finland is planning to achieve this goal by 2035 and is already heavily investing in the translating research results into new climate-neutral technologies. The Finnish Climate Fund, set up to boost low carbon industry and accelerate to a carbon neutral economy, has so far invested €145 million to help move 15 innovations into scale up, thanks to additional money raised from the private sector.

Erkinheimo is confident that Europe will have all the technologies and resources it needs to make its economy carbon neutral, but additional investment is still needed and governments need to act faster and give more flexibility to how public research funding is allocated. “We should really think how can we make shortcuts, how can we make bold investments, and how can we accelerate the decision making,” she said.

Lemaître noted that addressing the climate challenge require the mobilisation of all science disciplines and the entire society.  “We should definitely not fall into defeatism. We can do it, no doubt.”

Never miss an update from Science|Business:   Newsletter sign-up