With the ‘European Green Deal’, the European Union intends to make Europe the world's first climate-neutral economic area by 2050 and decouple economic growth from resource consumption. As research and innovation is also expected to further this endeavour, the ‘Green Deal’ was included as part of ‘Horizon 2020’ and researchers in Switzerland will also be able to take part.
With the ‘European Green Deal’, the European Union (EU) wishes to make Europe's economy sustainable and transform climate and environmental challenges into opportunities. The Green Deal therefore not only serves environmental objectives, but also functions as a new growth strategy for the EU. A number of measures are planned for the environment, energy supply, transport, trade, industry, financial market regulation, agriculture and forestry.
Research and innovation are also expected to further this endeavour. The ‘Green Deal Call’ was published on 18 September under the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation ‘Horizon 2020’. The call is intended to help drive the environmental, social and economic changes needed to tackle the climate crisis through research and innovation. In addition, the ‘Green Deal Call’ is also expected to help Europe recover from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Rapidly visible results and concrete solutions
This ambitious call is markedly different from other calls under Horizon 2020. The ‘Green Deal Call’ was jointly developed in several consultation rounds with extensive involvement of EU member states, associated states and interest groups. Acting through official bodies, Switzerland was also able to help shape the ‘Green Deal Call’. Moreover, a public poll was conducted within the research community and general public. Roughly 6,000 replies, 3,300 comments and 540 documents were received. The poll showed clear support for the relevance of the proposed topics.
In addition to the elaborate and integrative design of the call and the transdisciplinary approach, the projects are expected to deliver rapidly visible results and concrete solutions addressing the main priorities of the ‘Green Deal’. A total of EUR 1 billion in funding has been allocated for research and innovation relating to eight thematic areas:
- Increasing climate ambition
- Clean, affordable and secure energy
- Industry for a clean and circular economy
- Energy and resource efficient buildings
- Sustainable and smart mobility
- Farm to fork
- Biodiversity and ecosystems
- Zero-pollution, toxic-free environments
In addition, there are two horizontal areas in the call: ‘Strengthening knowledge’ and ‘Empowering citizens’, which offer a longer-term perspective in achieving the transformations set out in the European Green Deal.
An example of a typical ‘Horizon 2020’ project is ‘STORE&GO’, which involves the researching and testing of power-to-gas technology. In this project, electricity is converted from renewable energy sources into natural gas. The aim is store surplus electricity from renewable energy sources (e.g. solar or wind power, which are subject to strong fluctuations) in gaseous form. Three facilities were built for the project to test different methanisation methods. One of these test plants was located in Solothurn, where was transformed CO2 through the biological methanisation of wastewater. Switzerland was involved in this project through three universities, two industrial partners and a start-up company.
Switzerland and ‘green’ research
Switzerland is a key player in the area of ‘green’ research. Under ‘Horizon 2020’, local researchers were already involved in various pioneering projects before the ‘Green Deal Call’ was launched (see project in infobox). Under the second pillar, ‘societal challenges’, Swiss universities, research institutes, companies and other stakeholders have been involved in over 800 projects relating to food and agriculture, energy, transport, climate and the environment. Of these, 60 projects were coordinated by Swiss partners. ETH Zurich and EPF Lausanne have been the most active Swiss participants in these areas (as of 1 July 2020).
In addition to conventional calls, there are also Joint Undertakings under ‘Horizon 2020’. These are public-private partnerships that are jointly funded by the European Commission, research funding organisations and industry. In the ‘Green Deal’ area, Switzerland is involved in the initiatives ‘Shift2Rail’, ‘Clean Sky 2 (CS2)’, ‘Bio-based Industries (BBI)’ and ‘Fuel Cells & Hydrogen 2 (FCH2)’. In addition to EPFL, the most active Swiss participants include Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) and the two companies Solidpower SA and Quantis SARL.
‘Green Deal Call’ open to researchers in Switzerland
The ‘Green Deal Call’ is extremely appealing to a wide range of Swiss participants. Swiss project partners can contribute to its success in various ways. Whether it be universities, which are heavily involved in fundamental research, or companies, which are able to leverage their know-how to transform research findings into marketable solutions.
Interested parties may submit their research proposals via the European Commission's website. Euresearch assists and advises researchers from Switzerland in this process. The deadline for submission of research proposals is 26 January 2021. Review of research proposals is coordinated and handled by the European Commission's Research Executive Agency (REA). All funding contracts for the ‘Green Deal Call’ should be fully negotiated and signed by the end of 2021. The duration of projects may vary depending on the thematic area.
Researchers in Switzerland can submit project proposals for all ‘Green Deal’ calls. The current call is part of ‘Horizon 2020’ and therefore Switzerland's status in the successor programme ‘Horizon Europe’ has no impact on Swiss participation.
Astrid Vassella, SERI
Scientific Advisor EU Framework Programmes
Lucien von Gunten, SERI
Scientific Advisor EU Framework Programmes