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Published: 23 November 2017  
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EnergyRational energy use
EnvironmentUrban living
International cooperation
Research policyHorizon 2020
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Argentina  |  Austria  |  Belgium  |  Cyprus  |  France  |  Germany  |  Latvia  |  Lithuania  |  Netherlands  |  Norway  |  Poland  |  Romania  |  Slovenia  |  Sweden  |  Turkey
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Together for sustainable cities: an international research alliance

The world's cities account for less than 3% of its land surface, but they are already home to much of its population. By 2050, two-thirds of us are projected to live in urban areas, where joined-up management of food, water and energy will be increasingly important. A wave of partly EU-funded projects is about to explore this sustainability issue.

city view

© danila - fotolia.com

Funding agencies from around the world are backing this research, which will focus on the development of innovative solutions. The aim of this joint endeavour – named Sustainable Urbanisation Global Initiative (SUGI) – is to develop holistic approaches for the management of food, water and energy, which are usually considered in isolation.

Redesigning the food-water-energy nexus

A city is, in a way, a system of systems, explains James Taplin, the Urban Living Innovation Lead at Innovate UK. “However, the food system, the water management system, the energy system and so forth tend to have been developed in silos and don’t always work well with one another. Sometimes, they actually antagonise one another. We really have to start thinking about city systems in an integrated way. If we don’t start dealing with this now, we’re going be faced with a much bigger challenge a little bit further down the line.”

SUGI was launched specifically with this aim in mind. It will fund projects that are developing new approaches to the management of what is referred to as the food-water-energy nexus of systems.

Technically speaking, SUGI is a call for proposals issued jointly by the Belmont Forum – a group of agencies funding global environmental change research – and the Joint Programming Initiative Urban Europe. It draws on financial support from agencies in 22 countries, and a substantial contribution from the EU via a dedicated ERA-Net Cofund project. The combined funding available for this call amounts to €34 million.

A bumper crop of bright ideas

Proposals had to be submitted by March 2017, and the projects selected for funding are expected to start by March 2018. Some 90 applications were submitted, Taplin reports. These are now being checked for eligibility prior to assessment and ranking by a panel of experts, whose opinion will inform the actual selection.

Many of the agencies involved are keen to fund applied research and innovation, says Taplin. “What we are expecting to see across many of the projects is an applied element – research solutions translating into concrete innovations that actively change urban environments for the better,” he notes.

Project selection, says Taplin, is likely to be a complex process, given the diversity of the criteria and constraints of the agencies involved. “It can be difficult to bring different sets of processes together,” he observes. “But we all work very well together, and we are approaching this cooperation very constructively. We all want to get the greatest possible number of great projects out there.”

Funding decisions are to be announced in December 2017, so it will be a very happy Christmas for some – and potentially, we all stand to benefit from the eventual results of the selected projects. Sustainability is a global challenge, and it needs to be addressed at a global scale, Taplin notes. The partnerships on which SUGI is based create a relevant scope for research into possible solutions, he adds.

So who cares if the practical arrangements aren’t necessarily a walk in the park? “SUGI’s global reach is exciting, it is challenging, and it is absolutely the right level to be looking at,” Taplin concludes.

Project details

  • Project acronym: EN-SUGI
  • Participants:EN-SUGI United Kingdom (Coordinator), Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Germany, France, Latvia, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Slovenia, Turkey
  • Project N°: 730254
  • Total costs: € 18 649 260
  • EU contribution: € 5 000 053
  • Duration: December 2016 to November 2021

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