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Commission calls for ideas on new EU missions to address climate change, fight cancer, build green cities and make oceans and soils healthier

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The Commission opened a call for ideas seeking feedback and suggestions from citizens on how to adapt to climate change, fight cancer, build climate-neutral and smart cities and ensure healthy oceans, soils and food. The collected ideas will feed into the design of the new Missions under Horizon Europe, a novelty in the next EU research and innovation framework programme. Partly inspired by the Apollo 11 mission to put a man on the moon, European research and innovation missions aim to deliver solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing our world.

They thereby contribute to the goals of the European Green Deal and Europe's Beating Cancer Plan, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals. There are five defined mission areas. Each mission represents a portfolio of actions across disciplines and sectors within a certain timeframe and budget.

Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel said: “As part of the future Horizon Europe programme, missions will help define clear targets and find solutions to some of the most pressing challenges facing our world, in turn increasing the effectiveness of research and innovation funding. For this we need citizens to express their views, make proposals and engage in their design and implementation. Together, we will make Europe healthier, greener and more resilient.”

The Commission is engaging Europeans in designing and creating missions that will meet their expectations and needs: in June, the Mission Boards, a broad mix of independent experts, presented their first proposals for EU missions and throughout the summer, online events took place around Europe to listen to people's priorities. The results of the latest call for ideas will be presented at the online European Research & Innovation Days (22-24 September 2020). The selected missions will be announced at the end of 2020 and launched in 2021.  More information is available here.

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Climate Diplomacy: EVP Timmermans and HR/VP Borrell welcome the US return to the Paris Agreement and engage with Presidential Climate Envoy John Kerry

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Following the inauguration of President Biden, the EU is immediately engaging with the new US Administration on tackling the climate crisis. In a bilateral videoconference on 21 January, Executive Vice-President for the Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, will discuss the preparation of the COP26 climate summit with the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry. Executive Vice-President Timmermans and High-Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell issued a Joint Statement, welcoming the decision by President Biden for the United States to re-join the Paris Agreement: “We are looking forward to having the United States again at our side in leading global efforts to combat the climate crisis. The climate crisis is the defining challenge of our time and it can only be tackled by combining all our forces. Climate action is our collective global responsibility. COP26 in Glasgow this November will be a crucial moment to increase global ambition, and we will use the upcoming G7 and G20 meetings to build towards this. We are convinced that if all countries join a global race to zero emissions, the whole planet will win.”

The EU submitted a new Nationally Determined Contribution to the UNFCCC Secretariat in December 2020, as part of its implementation of the Paris Agreement. The EU has committed to a 55% net reduction of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, compared to 1990 levels, as a stepping stone to achieving climate neutrality by 2050. The Joint Statement is available online here.

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United States re-joining the Paris Agreement - Statement by Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans and High Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell

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"The European Union welcomes the decision by President Biden for the United States to re-join the Paris Agreement on climate change. We are looking forward to having the United States again at our side in leading global efforts to combat the climate crisis. The climate crisis is the defining challenge of our time and it can only be tackled by combining all our forces. Climate action is our collective global responsibility.

"The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow this November will be a crucial moment to increase global ambition, and we will use the upcoming G7 and G20 meetings to build towards this. We are convinced that if all countries join a global race to zero emissions, the whole planet will win."

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Reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement

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“To drive systemic change towards true circularity, regulation and action must be based on science and facts. Reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 calls for a revision in the way we use energy and natural resources and how we are able to create a circular economy today – as businesses, as governments, as individuals,” writes Finnish food packaging producer Huhtamaki President and CEO Charles Héaulmé.

“This will not happen on its own. Innovation, investment and political commitment are key for making circular economy a reality. We must also foster a new culture of cooperation, where the best solutions lead the way.

Charles Héaulmé, President and CEO of the Finnish food packaging producer Huhtamaki

Charles Héaulmé, President and CEO of the Finnish food packaging producer Huhtamaki

For industry, designing for circularity remains a serious challenge, especially where structural gaps – such as the lack of common infrastructures – exist. This is particularly true for the packaging sector and dealing with these gaps must begin with an acknowledgment of the need for a systemic transition from a linear to a circular approach, where products are not just recyclable but they are actually recycled. As this paradigm shift affects all sectors and policy domains, we must join forces to develop and provide the most effective solutions together – in Europe, and on a global level.

This is no easy task. To succeed, we must ensure that what we do is based on science and facts. A good example is the issue of plastic waste, which is a serious environmental problem worldwide. Plastic is crucial for so many essential products and applications, such as in medicine, but its longevity brings about challenges at the waste disposal stage. As a result, we are seeing many governments tackle the situation by implementing rapid bans for certain single-use products that contain plastic.

But in reality, plastic is crucial to our world when used in the right way: what we are dealing with are the very visible failures in the end-of-life management of products made from plastic. These would be better handled through a combined effort of material innovation and efficient end-of-life management. So instead of concentrating on the life span of a product, we should be paying closer attention to what these products are made of – and how the materials themselves can be recycled and then reused. We should also not be afraid to recognize that what works in one country or region of the world might not immediately work in another. There are differences between nations reflecting size, population density, actual infrastructures and levels of economic development.

This focus on materials is, we firmly believe, a crucial part of the equation for systemic change. For businesses, innovation is the key to unlocking the competitive sustainable solutions needed to create a circular economy for the materials used to make packaging, reduce our carbon footprint and ensure resource efficiency.

While we must be bold in our vision and set clear goals on where we want to go, we must also remember that much innovation is incremental and disruptive innovation often requires significant time and investment. When seeking the most environmentally ambitious and viable solutions, we must take into account the entire life cycle of products and create circular business models that ensure the optimal use of our global resources while maintaining a high level of customer satisfaction.

At the outset, we see four key elements to driving the necessary change:

An infrastructure revolution
We need to understand where gaps exist in each country’s current infrastructure related to circularity – such as waste labelling and collection, and end-of-life management – then introduce policies and mechanisms to bridge these gaps and provide waste management and recycling systems that meet the needs of the 21st  century. Material charges can prove to be good incentives, but we should also look at enhanced producer responsibility and new forms of ownership of materials.

Empowering transformative innovation

We must ensure that policies support continued innovation and competitive sustainability by creating a framework which provides incentives for innovation that will help us to deliver the Green Deal. Instead of picking the winners, policymakers should set clear directions to drive efficiencies and lower carbon. By using Life Cycle Thinking to assess the true impact of regulatory and legislative proposals, policymakers can also help embed outcome-focused policy design.

Incentivizing consumers to change

Circular business models should incentivize consumers to reuse, repair and recycle – for example, by ensuring that doing so offers them better quality products and services. In addition, education and inspiration are powerful tools that policymakers and business alike should use to end littering and pollution.

Science-led policy making

By ensuring facts and evidence are the foundation for consumer-behaviour, decision-making and regulation, we are far more likely to deliver the best environmental outcomes. We firmly believe we need enabling regulation founded on scientific evidence and facts, which supports and stimulates innovation

If we are to succeed, we need to be pragmatic and work together, agnostic of technology, material or sector. No one organization can do this alone. We must work with one another across the value chain and look at what actions are required in each region or country to enable efficient material use and to ensure that end-of-life solutions are not only attainable but more importantly, sustainable. We should create general conditions for circular businesses to flourish so that looking at each industry individually and creating rules per sector – whether for packaging, car parts or electronics, for example – becomes unnecessary.

The issue is not about single- or multi-use, but about raw materials. To deliver a truly systemic shift, we need to keep our eyes on the big picture. We need to base ourselves on the science and the expertise of those that, working together, can make a difference.

Now is the time for change. Industry and policymakers must come together to build the platforms that enable both value-chain and cross-value-chain working; and which are themselves linked to the organizations and mechanisms which policymakers have established. By using science, innovation and investment in a public-private partnership we can deliver the best solutions for people and the planet, starting today.

Charles Héaulmé
President and CEO
Huhtamaki

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