Towards a climate-neutral economy: K4I Forum Virtual Debate highlights the importance of R&I in the green transition

On June 11th, 2020, Knowledge4Innovation hosted a virtual debate on the proposed response to the COVID-19 pandemic and how the recovery can be combined with the ambition of a green transition towards a climate-neutral economy. The question at hand: how can these pressing issues be consolidated into one sustainable, long-term recovery plan? 

The key speakers were Artur Runge-Metzger the Director of DG Climate Action, and Hans Arne Frøystein, Chairperson of EURAMET (European Association of National Metrology Institutes) . The hosting MEP was Maria da Graça Carvalho, Chair of the K4I Forum. 

Mr. Runge-Metzger began by laying the framework for the initiative – the agenda of the European Green Deal. Although it was engineered to guide each emission-heavy sector of the European economy through deep and fundamental transformation, the question remained: would such a resource-strenuous effort be feasible in the context of a significantly weakened economy, and the arrival of a new Union-wide crisis?

Such large goals require a strong instrument, taking on the shape of a 750 Bln euro fund. Next Generation EU is tailored, within the context of both an emergency response, and a need for long-term systemic change, to orbit around three tasks (or pillars): adapting, investing, and strengthening. The largest part of economic support resulting from the plan will come from its first pillar, and mainly from the Recovery and Resilience Facility, providing large-scale COVID-19 recovery aid, contingent on the link between its usage to Green Deal strategy, digitization, and improved  European autonomy. 

The proposed budget for investment would provide an infrastructural window to upgrade production in certain sectors,  through direct support to private investors, or even regions and municipalities. This upgrade of the InvestEU program would foster sustainable development through a mechanism of strategic investment, as well as a solvency support instrument, with the capacity to keep innovative companies in operation despite the economic strain of the COVID-19 crisis. Lastly, in an effort to strengthen efforts of civil protection, funds will be funnelled to existing and well-established EU programs. Among others, Horizon Europe, with its link to both the health sector, and to the green transition, remains a priority.

Building on this thread, Mr. Arne Frøystein stressed the importance of metrology as a field, and its contribution to the development of the Green Deal. Metrology, in itself, exists as a horizontal discipline across sustainable development, serving as a backbone for industry and trade, while addressing Europe’s key societal challenges, from clean and renewable energy to a secure and healthy society. Its relevance to the current climate was thus rendered clear: moving forward, facts and science remain crucial as a basis for all policymaking, whether that be in the fight against COVID-19, cancer, or any projects urging European attention. The implementation of metrology into the goals of Horizon Europe would, throughout 2021, permit EURAMET to develop networks covering industrial, societal, and technological evolution, and allow for a link with pan-European stakeholders.

All in all, this virtual debate provided an outline of the goals of Next Generation EU, a comprehensive response to a multifaceted crisis. The key players in the success of the programme remain researchers and innovators, given that insight-based solutions are essential to move the European Union into quick and large-scale rebuilding, modernization, and autonomy.