Research and innovation are key enablers for the implementation of the Green Deal. There is an enormous urge to work together among different types of stakeholders. Long term mission oriented funding schemes and sufficient human capital are needed to deliver on the ambitions. These were some of the key points raised during the hybrid event on the Green Deal and research, jointly organized by Neth-ER and Universities of the Netherlands on June 21st, 2022.

The Green Deal and research: knowledge institutions as co-creators

Role of research in the Green Deal

What does the Green Deal have in store for research and how to ensure that knowledge institutions are co-creators? This event, moderated by Jurgen Rienks, director of Neth-ER, aimed to answer these questions. Anastasios Kentarchos, Adviser Climate Science & Innovation at Directorate-General Research & Innovation of the European Commission, kicked off the event by highlighting the policies and possibilities for research in relation to the Green Deal at EU level. Subsequently a panel discussion followed on the Green Deal research activities, ambitions and needs of knowledge institutions and the Dutch government, with Kornelis Blok (Chair of the TU Delft Energy Initiative and Professor of Energy Systems Analysis, Chairman Netherlands Energy Research Alliance), Joep Houterman (Chairman of the Board of Fontys University of applied sciences), Tirza van Daalen (Director of the Geological Survey of the Netherlands at TNO) and Ineke Hoving-Nienhuis (coordinator Horizon Europe at the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy).

R&I as key enablers

Mr Kentarchoscontribution shed light on the way in which the Commission aims to mainstream sustainability in all policies, in order to reach the goal of climate neutrality by 2050. Research and innovation (R&I) are instrumental in achieving this, as ‘key enablers’ for developing, demonstrating and deploying green solutions. The main instrument for R&I at European level is Horizon Europe, which should dedicate at least 35% of its budget to climate action. The centre of gravity for green R&I within Horizon Europe lies in pillar 2, aimed at societal challenges, through various clusters and the partnerships. Attention for climate can also be found in pillars 1 and 3, for example through the European Research Council, the European Innovation Council and the European Institute for Technology. In addition, four of the five missions, newly created under Horizon Europe, are expected to generate substantial societal impact from European green R&I efforts. The New European Bauhaus initiative, part of Horizon as well, should ‘bring culture in for the cause of the Green Deal’. Mr Kentarchos concluded by urging the research community, member states and other societal stakeholders to work together to accelerate solutions for the climate crisis, which ‘is an issue of scale and speed’.

The impact of the Green Deal 

Do knowledge institutions feel the impact of these activities and opportunities at EU level related to the Green Deal? According to Houterman, its agenda setting aspect and the momentum this generates stimulates knowledge institutions to step up their efforts. The panellists gave an insight into how this plays out on the institutional level as well as on the level of researchers themselves. As an example, Blok pointed out that their already sustainability-heavy research agenda has been expanded to take newer topics relevant to the Green Deal into account. For a bigger impact, more alignment between national and European strategies is needed, according to van Daalen. Hoving-Nienhuis responded by highlighting the recently announced national financial support for knowledge institutions to participate in Horizon Europe. The outstanding performance of the Netherlands in the Green Deal call under Horizon 2020, facilitated partially through the close contact between government agencies and stakeholders, is testament to the commitment of the Dutch national government to let the Green Deal have an impact.

Societal outreach

Mr Kentarchos’ urge to work together was acknowledged by the panellists, who underscored the need to ‘let outsiders in, find new networks and meet new people’, in order to generate new ideas and maximise societal impact of R&I activities. All panellists explained how their institutions all reach out to society by cooperating regularly with other knowledge institutions, the government, ngo’s, and industrial partners, including SME’s. Especially the latter are crucial to bring in to ‘speed up’ the green transition, according to van Daalen. This also requires an understanding of which specific industrial sectors are important to focus on, taking into account their potential specific contributions. The interaction between different perspectives and resulting complementarity is what makes the difference, Houterman explained. Hereby the inclusion of a wide range of technology readiness levels in collaborative projects is essential, as well as long term commitment from all partners involved. Blok added that the way funding schemes are built up should incentivize cooperation among stakeholders more. Currently European and national funding schemes are primarily focused on competition, not on cooperation, he elaborated. All panellists agreed that a delicate balance should be struck, as researchers need to work together, but ‘also want to be stimulated to excel’.

Long term mission oriented funding

With regard to funding, the panellists highlighted another need: to have long term, mission oriented funding schemes, because ‘we can only answer the questions of tomorrow by working on them today’, as van Daalen explained. According to Houterman, the problem is not that research is not done on the right topics, but that transactions costs are hampering an optimal performance of funds. Blok added that the time between ideas and the reception of funding needs to be shortened. In addition, ‘moving from project to project’ is hindering continuity and the accumulation of particular expertise. The development of funding schemes away from a project-based approach is therefore needed, so the panellists agreed. Improving access to funds remains a key priority, according to Houterman.

Human capital 

Attracting the right people is a key challenge for knowledge institutions to deliver on their Green Deal research ambitions, according to the panellists. The ‘war for talent’ forces knowledge institutions to rethink how to motivate researchers to work for them, according to Blok. Houterman added that it is up to knowledge institutions to utilize the inspirational value of education in this respect. Still, the EU also has a role to play here. ‘’Europe is key here to combine researchers’’, as van Daalen put it, and in this context Hoving-Nienhuis brought to memory the current efforts on changing the reward system for researchers.

Knowledge institutions as co-creators

Blok, Houterman and van Daalen firmly responded positively to the final question, if knowledge institutions indeed are co-creators of the Green Deal. Whether it is about the development of policies and programmes, or the delivery of R&I for the implementation of the Green Deal, the contribution of knowledge institutions is crucial. Reflecting on the contributions of all panellists, Rienks provided three main take-aways. First of all, the need to align EU and national policies better, in order to move jointly in the same direction. Secondly, the urge to support the generation of new ideas and new networks, in particular to support more cooperation among different types of stakeholders. Thirdly, underlying many of the recommendations from the panellists, the requirement to advance in the European Research Area, for example with regard to attracting human capital.

The recording of the event is available here.