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Brussels, 16 February 2000

Environment and Sustainable Development: 165 new research projects to be launched

Key words: research programme, environment, sustainability, funding

The European Commission has just approved the first batch of projects to be funded under the Environment and Sustainable Development (ESD) sub-programme of the Energy, Environment and Sustainable Development programme (EESD). These 165 projects1 will receive EU funding worth €207 million. The first call was for projects dealing with the sustainable management and quality of water, global change, climate and biodiversity, sustainable marine ecosystems, and the city of tomorrow and cultural heritage.

"The projects selected show that the problem-solving and integrated approach of the Fifth Framework Programme, involving all stakeholders such as policy-makers and end-users, has been grasped by the proposers," says Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin.

Selected projects are funded under the Energy, Environment and Sustainable Development programme, which is one of the four thematic programmes of the EU's Fifth Framework Programme (FP5). The EESD programme has an overall budget of €2 125 million over four years.

The newly selected projects aim to make concrete contributions towards sustainable development, a concept that has emerged as a balanced synthesis of the environmental, social and economic dimensions of development.

A total of 951 valid proposals, involving almost 8 000 partners, were submitted as a response to the first call.

The proposals were evaluated by independent experts, who prepared for the Research Directorate-General a shortlist of projects that they recommended for funding.

Integrated approaches

It is widely accepted that only integrated or multi-disciplinary approaches can lead to sustainability in the long run, and the need to incorporate these in research was recognised in most of the proposals submitted during the first call. In the key action 'Sustainable management and quality of water', for example, the FIRMA project will apply modelling tools to integrate the hydrological, social and economic aspects of water resource management. The resulting models will improve current assessment methodologies by representing customers, suppliers and policy-makers concerned with issues such as wastewater, water scarcity and integrated catchment planning.

In the key action 'City of tomorrow and cultural heritage', the Sureuro project aims to provide housing companies and local decision-makers with practical management tools for sustainable renovation. The consortium will adopt an integrated approach towards testing and implementing new concepts for sustainable transformation of existing housing areas. One of the main novelties is the care taken to involve tenant participation in the renovation management process and to ensure that normal and affordable costs for tenants are not exceeded. This integration of socio-economic and environmental considerations in a process which has traditionally been concerned with mainly technical and economic issues represents a welcome and interesting trend.

Strategic clustering

Often single projects do not adopt a sufficiently holistic approach towards sustainability, hence the need to cluster them into groups of projects sharing common environmental and socio-economic objectives. Major clusters have been established in all main areas of the ESD programme. The ongoing Eloise cluster (European land-ocean interaction studies) has been complemented with 6 new projects from two different key actions ('Sustainable management and quality of water' and 'Sustainable marine ecosystems). Eloise is now the largest coastal research initiative in the world, combining research on marine problems with work on processes in catchment basins. With no less than 35 projects it includes partners from as many as 24 countries, including eastern Europe and North Africa. The focus of the new projects will be the development of new tools for integrated coastal zone management.

In the key action 'Global change, climate and biodiversity', the Carboeurope cluster is designed to better understand, quantify and predict the carbon balance of Europe, under current and future scenarios, from local ecosystems to the regional and continental scale. The combination of complementary approaches within the cluster will allow the Commission to define consistent strategies in the negotiation of the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. In-situ measurements of carbon and energy fluxes at 32 European test sites (boreal, temperate and Mediterranean forests) and in the Amazon will be carried out.

Wanted: concrete deliverables

Newly selected projects demonstrate a stronger socio-economic dimension and policy relevance than in former Framework Programmes. This is to be linked to the requirement to focus on research activities that can make a valuable contribution to the resolution of socio-economic problems of interest to the citizens. In the key action 'City of tomorrow and cultural heritage', one important objective is to reduce urban pollution and congestion, which are endangering sustainability. The LUTR cluster links five different projects in order to develop strategic approaches to reduce urban transport demand in the long run. The aim is to reduce private car dependency at source by promoting coherent and efficient transport and land-use policies in cities.

Today, in the field of water management (key action 'Sustainable management and quality of water'), more and more research is regulation-driven. Most of the selected projects will deliver inputs for current European regulations or future policy actions. The PURE project illustrates this approach well: it aims to prevent contamination of groundwater by pollutants from industrial sites. The project will improve the knowledge base in the area of soil pollution, where there is as yet no European policy.

Also within the 'generic activities' section of the ESD programme, research is very much driven by the necessity to lead to positive socio-economic impacts. The DEEP project aims to develop effective and efficient product information schemes as important means to progress towards sustainable development. Research will have to explore environmental-product information schemes, which could become effective tools of sustainable policies by supporting sustainable consumption patterns, stimulating "green" markets, fostering innovation and development of green products and services, supporting environmental awareness, etc.

Strong push to new topics

In the key action 'Global change, climate and biodiversity', one important new topic is to improve the predicting of seasonal climate variations. The Demeter (Development of a European Multi-model Ensemble for Seasonal to Interannual Prediction) project will develop and test an advanced forecast system for seasonal climate prediction on short periods (3-6 months). There will be detailed interaction with three user sectors, which could benefit considerably from seasonal forecasts: health, agriculture and the insurance industry. With the help of the users, the project will produce a quantitative assessment of the economic value of the forecast system and its possible impacts on EU policies.

The key action 'Sustainable management and quality of water' concerns the area of integrated management of water resources at catchment scale and of ecological quality of water ecosystems. Research on socio-economic aspects of sustainable management of water resources and the development of Decision Support Systems is particularly new.

In the key action 'Sustainable marine ecosystems', a new area on "Reducing the effects of anthropogenic activities on the marine environment and recovering degraded marine systems" has been included in the work programme. A cluster on impacts on the marine environment has been established, with four new projects addressing topical issues such as harmful algal blooms and oil spills, with a view to coming up with rehabilitation measures to recover degraded marine systems.

FP5 is the first framework programme to give strong visibility to urban research at the EU level. This is motivated by two main reasons: the increasing urban content in EU policy making with the associated interest of cities and regions, and the problem-solving approach of FP5 addressing the major socio-economic problems faced by EU cities. Within the key action 'City of tomorrow and cultural heritage', urban sustainability is being addressed globally, but also by focusing on aspects such as cultural heritage, the built environment and transport. The novelty of this key action lies more in the integration of all these themes within a single programme than in the content of its different actions. In the area of urban governance, a cluster of seven projects is being supported to help improve the understanding of the many aspects of urban governance. The topic of urban governance is not new, but the integrated approach that the key action is promoting will ensure a more comprehensive overview of the necessary improvement of governance practices leading to sustainable development.

For further information:

Annex: Further information on selected projects and clusters

1. Not including the cooperative research (CRAFT) projects, exploratory awards and fellowships

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PRESS RELEASES | 24.02.2000