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| Global Change and Ecosystems: how FP6 projects are tackling sustainable development

The Sixth Framework Programme for Research (FP6) which commenced in 2002 contributes to our growing understanding of environmental change and sustainable development. Its thematic sub-priority, "Global Change and Ecosystems" (GCE), brings together international partners from around the world in some 280 projects. Research focuses on the mechanisms and impacts of global environmental change as well as practical strategies and tools for sustainable development.
Global Change and Ecosystems: how FP6 projects are tackling sustainable development

Improving our natural surroundings

The FP6 research teams study for example the impact and mechanisms of greenhouse gas emissions and atmospheric pollutant on climate, ozone depletion and carbon sinks (oceans and inland waters, forests and soil). They do research to understand the mechanisms and assess the impact of global change on the water cycle, water quality and availability, as well as soil functions and quality to provide the bases for management tools for sustainable water systems. Biodiversity and ecosystems are analysed to understand and minimise the negative impacts of human activities. The mechanisms of desertification and natural hazards, such as earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic activity, are being elucidated to improve risk assessment, forecasting, prevention and mitigation. Efforts are also deployed to improve, integrate and use Earth Observation systems which are ground-based, airborne and space observing systems, crucial for example in monitoring climate change or for enabling early warning of natural hazards. In addition, strategies and tools for the sustainable use of land, with emphasis on coastal zones, agricultural lands and forests are developed to ensure sustainable development at economic, social and environmental levels.

In 2004, the Global Change and Ecosystems priority was oriented to also support the Commission's Action Plans regarding Environmental technologies and Environment and health.

European research is thus delivering sustainable solutions to societal and industrial problems. The 'problem solving' approach combines scientific expertise with industrial involvement to secure reliable and exploitable results with highly marketable potential. Green technologies create a real opportunity to combine long-term economic growth with a better environment. The development of technologies includes reducing the degree of pollution in soil, rivers, lakes and the atmosphere, as well as minimising waste.

Within the 280 projects of the Global Change and Ecosystems priority, a total of 79 projects carry out research directly linked to policy-making, assessing – for example – the impact of environmental issues on health. These projects are part of the Scientific Support to Policies (SSP) activities, which aim to help politicians to make effective policies based on sound evidence. Commission services, outside the Directorate General for Research, with a clear interest in SSP activities (mainly from environment, enterprise, agriculture and regional policy areas) were consulted to establish a list of research topics high on the agenda of EU policy-making.

FP6 research activities aim to strengthen and integrate the European Research Area (ERA). As a novelty within FP6, two new funding instruments, the Networks of Excellence (NoE) and the Integrated Projects (IP), were developed to serve this purpose. These instruments encourage collaboration among Europeans researchers from institutes, companies or universities. In addition, the ERA-NET scheme was designed to support the long-lasting coordination of European research programmes across national boundaries, with the participation of funders and managers of national and regional research programmes.

The calls for proposals for “Global Change and Ecosystems”

A wide consultation process was initiated by the European Commission, involving notably the scientific community, enterprises and the Member States, helped in defining the research areas to be covered by this priority. On this basis, calls for proposals were published by the European Commission in the Official Journal and on the CORDIS website.

Four calls for proposals were launched, as well as one targeted call for Specific Support Actions for Associated Candidate Countries. This helped to prepare the accession of the new 10 Member States and simplified their integration into the European Research Area. In addition, a top-up call was launched to extend ongoing projects with Third Country partners.

These calls have generated high interest within the scientific community of the European Union and also from many Third Countries which were motivated to participate in the environmental research of the Community. In total, more than 1 200 proposals have been submitted to the calls. Based upon independent evaluation procedures, 280 contracts have been or are being signed (data as of January 2007), connecting 4 375 partners from all over Europe and the world.

The new instruments and initiative were welcomed. A total of 47 IPs and 8 NoEs were selected and each of them has in average 38 partners! Around 20% of all ERA-NETs are dealing with environmental topics. It demonstrates the importance of this thematic area among the ERA-NETs.

These new instruments are complemented by Specific Targeted Research Projects (STREPs, 146 projects), Co-ordination Actions (CA, 17 projects) and Specific Support Actions (SSA, 62 projects). Financial breakdown per funding instrument is presented in the table below.

Major challenges for environmental research in the Sixth Framework Programme for Research (FP6) and EU financial contribution


1. Impact and mechanisms of greenhouse gas emissions and atmospheric pollutants on climate, ozone depletion and carbon sinks: €182.2 million
2. Water cycle, including soil-related aspects: €169.4 million
3. Biodiversity and ecosystems: €147.4 million
4. Mechanisms of desertification and natural disasters: €73.6 million
5. Strategies for sustainable land management, including coastal zones, agricultural land and forests: €63.2 million
6. Operational forecasting and modelling including global climatic change observation systems: €41.9 million
7. Complementary research: €63.8 million
8. Cross-cutting issue: Sustainable Development concepts and tools: €29.0 million
9. Specific support actions covering several areas (SSA) €2.2 million
10. Scientific Support to Policies: €78.9 million

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) were particularly encouraged to participate in FP6 as partners within projects. The possibilities for SME participation are in particular enhanced with the Environmental Technologies Action Plan (ETAP). It seeks to exploit their potential to improve both the environment and their competitiveness, thus contributing to growth and creating jobs.

A total of 105 countries are joining forces in research projects for the environment, including the 27 European Union countries. Within these, 42 countries are eligible for international cooperation funding. Common interest and mutual benefits are the two key words in these partnerships, which are so evident when the concerns are major environmental challenges.

With a total projects cost of €1 318 million, the EU contributed with close to €852 million to the Global Change and Ecosystems priority and the relevant Scientific Support to Policies projects.

Funding Instrument Number of selected projects Average number of partners per project EU contribution (in million €) Projects total costs (in million €)
Networks of Excellence (NoE) 8 39 83 207
Integrated Projects (IP) 47 38 487 718
Specific Targeted Research Projects (STREP) 146 11 237 343
Specific Support Actions (SSA) 62 7 23 27
Co-ordination Actions (CA) 17 15 22 23
TOTAL 280 16 852 1 318

NB: This publication presents summary information on the 280 projects funded during FP6 under the "Global change and ecosystems" priority and the relevant Scientific Support to Policies research activities as of January 2007 (a number of projects presented in this catalogue are still under negotiation). Please note that updated version of this catalogue can be found on EUROPA, research web site for the environment:

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