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FP7 stimulates support for sustainable development

28/07/2011

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A progress report on the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) for research highlights support for sustainable development and indicates which issues still need to be addressed.

The Commission’s Communication ‘On the progress made under the Seventh European Framework Programme for Research,’ (18 May 2009) highlighted the support given to sustainable development under the FP7 since it started in 2007. The EU has invested no less than €4.4 billion in sustainable development-related research over the first two years of the framework.

Overall, the programme will contribute €54 billion over the seven-year period between 2007 and 2013. Of the initial €10 billion invested to date, 44% has been allocated to sustainable development. In particular, these funds have aided projects that deal with the environment and climate change, energy, food and agriculture and biotechnology.

Two particular tools under the FP7 are providing the necessary infrastructure to foster the sustainable-development related research. The Co-operation Specific Programme – the largest Specific Programme of the FP7 – and the Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS) enable the FP7 to promote forward-looking and integrated approaches to sustainability.

In practical terms, the FP7 contributes to the seven key challenges of the SDS: climate change and clean energy; sustainable transport; sustainable consumption and production; conservation and management of natural resources; public health; social inclusion, demography and migration; and global poverty and sustainable development challenges.

The Co-operation Specific Programme is divided into ten working themes. In the three first waves of the working themes in 2007, 2008 and 2009, 59% of topics have contributed to one or more sustainability objectives.

In addition to the main sustainable development relevant themes – environment, including climate change; energy; and food, agriculture and biotechnology – there has also been significant research into sustainability.

FP7 has also organised joint efforts across several themes. Multidisciplinary efforts have been set-up to deal with a number of issues such as: biorefineries, water technologies, climate change and conflict, and information and communications technology (ICT).

Despite the efforts being made by FP7, experts still feel there is a pressing need to raise the profile of research into sustainable development. The Commission conference ‘Sustainable Development – A challenge for European research’ from 26 to 28 May 2009 produced a dozen recommendations that call for a new approach to measuring the impact of research in the field of sustainability.

A key recommendation states that present statistics make it almost impossible to quantify either the money spent or the effects achieved by research in the area of sustainability. Moreover, the participants warned against trying to implement a ‘grand plan’ with regard to research into sustainable development. This urge for caution was intended to prevent huge parts of the EU research budget being directed towards projects that cannot be expected to effectively address the challenge of sustainable development.

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