Horizon Europe should be ‘nothing less than zero’

A T&E analysis of a new EU funding programme for research and innovation has said ‘nothing less than zero’ greenhouse gases should be the guiding principle for projects which receive EU funding. The analysis also says tackling climate breakdown requires a better coordination of EU policies and actions pursued at national government level.

The EU’s ‘Horizon 2020’ programme will expire next year, but a new programme of funding for the period 2021-27 has been launched under the name ‘Horizon Europe’. It has a proposed budget of nearly €100 billion, which will be given to research and innovation projects that stimulate technological innovation.

In the past, EU funding for transport projects has not always been used to promote technologies that help decarbonise the sector (e.g. natural gas), so T&E has published an eight-page paper setting out which types of projects should qualify for Horizon Europe funding and which should not if the money is to help the EU’s fight against climate change. The paper How Horizon Europe can deliver a zero-emission transport sector says use of the €100bn should be subject to ‘a clear prioritisation of clean transport technologies’ that will make transport in Europe zero-greenhouse-gas by 2050 at the latest.

The paper’s guiding principle of ‘nothing less than zero’ means only research in zero-emission road vehicle technology (eg. battery electric and fuel cell electric vehicles) should be eligible for public funding. In shipping, research priority should be given to battery-electric and green hydrogen/ammonia-based propulsion systems, including fuel cells. For aviation, the focus should lie on the development of breakthrough fuels, such as synthetic electrofuels produced from additional renewable electricity, with zero or near zero GHG emissions.

T&E’s freight and investment officer Fedor Unterlohner said: ‘Transport is the EU’s biggest climate problem, and it desperately needs a more effective and coherent research and innovation strategy. The Horizon Europe funding could make a useful contribution, but only if it is channelled into projects that are clearly in line with EU climate goals.’

But the fund needs to look beyond specific projects and help create better alignment and greater consistency between EU and member states’ policies. We also need better coordination between the Commission’s research directorate and its other directorates that influence climate policy, as well as a greater representation for civil society organisations to offset the disproportionate influence exerted by industry stakeholders.

A provisional agreement on Horizon Europe was found between Parliament and Council in April, but the financial envelope still awaits final approval by the Member States who will decide over the eventual size of the budget in the negotiations on the next multiannual financial framework.