BRUSSELS and LONDON — Climate change is a major threat to humanity. It is set to inflict severe, widespread, and irreversible impact on citizens and nature, science tells us, unless carbon emissions are cut sharply and rapidly. We’ve already burned two thirds of all the fossil fuels that we’re allowed before heating the planet past the limit of safety.
Solving this challenge is necessary for humanity’s future. It also presents an economic opportunity for Europe if research can be translated to solutions. From the start, Europe has been a leader in tackling this crisis – pioneering policy with a planned 40% cut in in greenhouse gas emissions, regulation with the world’s first cap-and-trade system, and technology with 40% of the world’s renewable energy patents.
As leaders gather for the COP 21 Paris Climate Conference, it is apparent: we must now accelerate our investment, action and commitment. Citizens must become more engaged; leaders must lead; and researchers and entrepreneurs must point the way.
With more research and innovation, supported by adequate policies and budgets, we can achieve progress on the climate economy.
Climate change matters to all citizens. We all want to be empowered to develop and adopt new solutions faster. The European community of researchers and innovators have a special responsibility and capacity to make it happen.
For this, universities need support, and institutional autonomy, to train a new generation of researchers, engineers, innovators and entrepreneurs; these talented people need the freedom to move, collaborate and share knowledge more efficiently. At the same time, within this community, there should be more mobility among fields and sectors: a multi- and inter-disciplinary approach in research and education, as a way to excellence.
Cities and regions need the local autonomy and budgetary freedom to implement new climate solutions, and take pride in becoming green communities.
Business needs the incentives and regulatory stability to invest in the new solutions. Smart energy infrastructures, and new digital, material and bio-technologies are needed – to cut emissions, modernise infrastructures, save or recover energy, reorganise industry and society, and preserve the planet.
Society, enterprise and science need well-educated people, with a deep understanding of how things work and equipped with skills to build bridges between science and applications.
For all this, science and innovation communities must be interconnected with society and consumers, in order to sustain demand for and promote responsible use of new climate-friendly solutions.
Smarter policies and legislation
There should be a comprehensive legislative agenda to incorporate research and innovation into climate related policies. This means greater coherence among the various research-related budget lines, such as Horizon 2020, Regional and Cohesion Funds, the Digital Agenda, and other pan-European frameworks.
The latest scientific evidence, and innovation opportunities, should be included in EU legislation, such as the Better Regulation initiative, Industry 4.0 plans, draft laws for a “circular” or “sharing” economy, and modernisation of public governance at all levels.
This goal can be supported by the Digital Agenda, with EU initiatives to provide an open digital cloud of research, knowledge and ideas for coping with climate change and energy challenges.
EU and national governments are under-investing in energy and climate research. In Barcelona in 2002, European leaders set a spending target: 3% of GDP, in public and private funding, should go to R&D. It didn’t happen. Now, the threat of climate change makes greater investment in R&D inevitable. The equation is simple: Without research and innovation, no climate action. Without money, no research or innovation.
In the Commission budget, funding should be doubled for research and innovation relevant to climate issues, as part of the mid-term review of the Commission’s Multi-annual Financial Framework. This should be ‘fresh money’, not borrowed from other parts of the budget.
In the Member State budgets, there should be a comparable commitment to keep research as a priority. Research and innovation criteria should be included in the EU’s main tool for policy coordination, the so-called European Semester.
Lastly, for the private sector, there should be more incentives for innovation in climate-related technologies. The Commission’s new effort to mobilise capital through its European Fund for Strategic Investments is good. But it should provide preferential support for new technologies and new solutions; otherwise we will just get more old-technology, carbon-generating airports, roads, and factories.
New, greener technologies and disruptive business models need special funding mechanisms to cross the “Valley of Death” and move towards global markets.
Research and innovation are our greatest hope for salvation. It will help build the communities we need, inspire the legislation we require, and provide the financial incentives for progress. We call upon our leaders to recognise it, act on it, and stand for it.
This statement was released at the 2015 Science|Business Network’s Annual Conference in Barcelona. The Science|Business Network brings together universities, companies and policy leaders across Europe.