As Horizon legislation wraps up, EU commissioner reflects on how R&I in climate, agriculture, food and related sectors can help Europe recover from the pandemic
“Build back better”: That is a promise made across the European Union, as we work together to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating consequences.
A new expert report on food and agricultural research, released 15 December at a German EU Presidency conference, argues that Europe needs more comprehensive policies on diet, diversity and circularity if it is to recover speedily from the pandemic and help realise a “safe and just” world. For that, the soon-to-start Horizon Europe programme and related research and innovation activities will be essential.
But “better” has many implications. Better solidarity and cohesion, better stewardship of our natural resources, better responses to the multi-pronged challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss, better distribution of wealth and opportunities across society and better diet, better health, better livelihoods and better opportunities for all in the vital, complex system by which we produce, process, distribute and consume food. In other words, how to transition our natural resources and food systems to a “safe and just operating space”.
For that, research and innovation are prerequisites. In our Horizon Europe programme, 35% of the budget will be dedicated to tackling climate change. We will catalyse a wide range of projects, partnerships and missions to find new solutions for agriculture, the bioeconomy, and the blue economy. We make advances on sustainable healthy diets, food production, and digital platforms for agriculture and food systems. Through our revitalised European Research Area and synergies with other EU and member state programmes, we will set out a coordinated and inclusive programme for change. These efforts will contribute to the European Green Deal, through which Europe will become the first decarbonised continent. They will provide a powerful engine of knowledge, ideas and innovations to speed our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
These are ambitious targets. But, with the vast reservoirs of talent available to us in our universities, research centres, innovative start-ups and businesses, they are targets we can achieve by working together.
Our efforts today will ensure that our recovery is green, secure and inclusive; that our children and grandchildren enjoy a clean and healthy planet; that our ecosystems are resilient and our economy globally competitive. From the farmer, fisher and forester to the factory, shop, restaurant and home, I am confident the vital EU food and agriculture sectors will play their part in making our society strong, just, safe – and caring.
Editor’s note: This viewpoint is excerpted from a new expert report on food and agriculture research commissioned for the EU’s Standing Committee on Agricultural Research. The expert group was chaired by Gianluca Brunori, professor at the University of Pisa. Science|Business Editor-in-Chief Richard L. Hudson was a member of the group.