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In this Morning Brief, we open with the newest plan by the European Commission to rapidly reduce dependence on Russian fossil fuels after the nation’s invasion of Ukraine, the ASEM Global Lifelong Learning Week, promoted by EUA, is approaching, scientists from the University of Coimbra test new intelligent monitoring, the Natura 2000 awards have recognised excellence in nature protection across Europe with Portugal receiving an award, the EU Blue Economy report has come out, and more!  

Any comments or suggestions, hit me up with an email on teresa.carvalho@inesc.pt.

In today's Morning Brief:

In today’s Morning Brief:

REPower EU: A plan to rapidly reduce dependence on Russian fossil fuels and fast forward the green transition

The European Commission has today presented the REPowerEU Plan, its response to the hardships and global energy market disruption caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. There is a double urgency to transform Europe’s energy system: ending the EU’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels, which are used as an economic and political weapon and cost European taxpayers nearly €100 billion per year, and tackling the climate crisis. By acting as a Union, Europe can phase out its dependency on Russian fossil fuels faster. 85% of Europeans believe that the EU should reduce its dependency on Russian gas and oil as soon as possible to support Ukraine. The measures in the REPowerEU Plan can respond to this ambition, through energy savings, diversification of energy supplies, and accelerated roll-out of renewable energy to replace fossil fuels in homes, industry and power generation.

The green transformation will strengthen economic growth, security, and climate action for Europe and our partners. The Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) is at the heart of the REPowerEU Plan, supporting coordinated planning and financing of cross-border and national infrastructure as well as energy projects and reforms. The Commission proposes to make targeted amendments to the RRF Regulation to integrate dedicated REPowerEU chapters in Member States’ existing recovery and resilience plans (RRPs), in addition to the large number of relevant reforms and investments which are already in the RRPs. The country-specific recommendations in the 2022 European Semester cycle will feed into this process.

Click here for the specifics of the plan.


Research and Innovation to REPower the EU

REPowerEU is the European Commission’s plan for more affordable, secure and sustainable energy, and R&I activities are contributing to accelerating the clean energy transition for a more affordable, secure and sustainable energy by 2030, in line with the European Green Deal objectives.

Currently, only half of the technologies necessary to achieve full decarbonisation are ready for the market. R&I activities will support new and existing technology solutions to become market-ready, in particular for green hydrogen and solar energy.

The Commission will top-up Horizon Europe investments on the Hydrogen Joint Undertaking to double the number of Hydrogen Valleys by 2025 and will support skills through ERASMUS+ and the Joint Undertaking on Clean Hydrogen, with the launch of a large project to develop skills for the hydrogen economy.

Moreover, the Commission will, among others, develop and implement strategic R&I agendas with Member States on Green Hydrogen and Solar energy technology and secure funding in Horizon Europe.

The EU Mission on Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities will play a crucial role in realising energy savings in buildings.


ASEM Global Lifelong Learning Week

The ‘ASEM Global Lifelong Learning Week’, is scheduled to take place in-person (with some events also online) from September 26th to September 30th in Cork, Ireland.

The focus of this week is on the topic of lifelong learning; however, this is also an opportunity for a large network of academics and partners to meet in person for the first time post-COVID.

Some of the events scheduled throughout this week are co-hosted by the ASEM Lifelong Learning Hub and its partners, such as: Adult Continuing Education UCCECOLHEInternational Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame, and Cork Learning City.

The International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony 2022 takes place at University College Cork (UCC) in Ireland on 28 September.

As part of the events, Prof.(Hon), Dr.h.c.mult. Arne Carlsen, former Director of UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, will deliver the Annual Albert O’Rahilly Public Lecture, on Thursday 29 September. It celebrates this year the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Adult and Continuing Education Department of UCC. Alfred O’Rahilly was President of UCC who was responsible for the creation of the adult education department in 1946.

The lecture is planned as part of a joint event which will also include the annual Bertram Windle Award, which this year will be given to Professor Maria Slowey, Director of Higher Education Research Centre, Dublin City University. It will coincide with Learning City Day which includes several other activities in association with Cork UNESCO Learning City.

More information about this week, as well as information on how to register can be found at ASEM Global Lifelong Learning Week 2022.


Scientists from the University of Coimbra test new intelligent monitoring systems for vineyards

A multidisciplinary team led by researchers of the Institute for Systems and Robotics (ISR) of the Faculty of Sciences and Technology of the University of Coimbra (FCTUC) has explored new technological approaches to vineyard management, leading the way to the development of non-invasive and efficient monitoring systems that allow immediate and targeted action to be taken in the event of diseases and pests, improving production and reducing the harmful impact on the environment.

The study had the participation of researchers from the Institute for Systems Engineering and Computers (INESC Coimbra) and the Agrarian School of Coimbra (ESAC) in the scope of the project AI+Green – Intelligent Automation in Precise Agriculture, funded by MIT-Portugal and the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology, which aims to improve the accuracy and reliability of monitoring and detection of pests and diseases in vineyards.

Three vineyards in the Centro region – Coimbra, Valdoeiro and Quinta de Baixo – managed according to conventional practices, but with different biophysical characteristics, were studied for 12 months. The approaches explored and tested by the scientists were based on Deep Learning systems (deep learning, artificial intelligence), using spatial-temporal information obtained through remote sensing (satellite) and drones.

The study presents good arguments for the use of a dual camera for data collection in vineyards – using an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) equipped with a dual imaging sensor payload, namely a high-definition RGB camera and a five-band multispectral and thermal camera – contributing to the development of precision agriculture, because “promoting more efficient agriculture is essential to improve food quality and safety without compromising environmental sustainability. Although this sector has benefited in a modest way from technological advances in other sectors such as industry, robotics, intelligent vehicles, etc., it remains a predominantly manual and inefficient sector. Precision farming promotes the use of technology (software and hardware) in applications such as crop protection, monitoring and management.”, says Tiago Barros

The study was publiched in the journal Computers and Electronics in Agriculture. The scientific paper, with the title “Multispectral vineyard segmentation: A deep learning comparison study”, is available here.


Natura 2000 Awards: EU recognises excellence in nature protection across Europe

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the creation of the Natura 2000 network, the EU Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius announced the winners of the 2022 edition of the Natura 2000 Awards. The six winners include projects from Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Portugal, Spain and a cross-border project from Germany, Austria, Luxembourg and Switzerland.

The Natura 2000 Awards recognise conservation success stories across the EU and raises awareness about one of Europe’s outstanding achievements – the Natura 2000 network of protected areas.

In addition to conservation on land, communication, socio-economic benefits, and cross-border cooperation, this year the Awards are handed out to an additional category – Marine Conservation. This is to raise the profile of the many important efforts going on all around the Union to step up protection for marine and coastal species and habitats. Furthermore, the Citizens’ Award goes to the winner of the online vote.

Natura 2000 is an EU wide network of nearly 27 000 protected sites that covers more than 18% of EU land territory and about 9% of its marine areas. The aim of the network is to ensure the long-term survival of our most valuable and threatened species and habitats. It is also the result of a unique process of cooperation between stakeholders at national levels, and among EU Member States, which demonstrate the value of EU cooperation. The good management of the network is at the core of the ambitious protection and restoration targets of the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 which aims to put biodiversity on a path to recovery by 2030, with benefits for people, climate and the planet.

It is important to note that the Marine Conservation Award went to the achievements of the SPEA – Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves. Read more here.


EU urges building insulation push in bid to end reliance on Russian gas

According to EURACTIV, “The European Commission plans to eliminate Russian fossil fuel imports features a strong focus on energy efficiency. For the energy-guzzling building sector, this means a renewed push for home insulation. The EU’s building stock is responsible for about 40% of the EU’s total energy consumption and 36% of its greenhouse gas emissions. The prevalence of fossil gas boilers in European homes further compounds the issue. The EU executive’s plan, dubbed REPowerEU, “will help us to save more energy to accelerate the phasing out of fossil fuel and most importantly to kickstart investments on a new scale,” explained Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission. Most obvious among those are investments in energy savings, which “are the quickest and the cheapest way to address the current energy crisis,” she added while presenting the proposals on Wednesday (18 May). Home insulation is one of the surest ways of reducing energy use and consumer’s energy bills. A recent study by the Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE), a think-tank, found that insulating homes could significantly reduce energy use and reliance on Russian gas. Looking at some of the largest EU states, the think-tank found that “improving insulation in the selected countries can achieve up to 44% gas savings and reduce final energy demand by 45%.” “The BPIE analysis tallies with research by the Regulatory Assistance Project, Ember Climate, E3G and Bellona showing that energy efficiency and electrification can massively reduce gas imports,” tweeted Jan Rosenow, director of European operations at environmental NGO RAP. Industry representatives share this view too. “According to the latest BPIE analysis, a massive roll out of building insulation can lead to 45% of final energy demand reduction and 44% of natural gas saved for heating residential buildings,” explained Katarzyna Wardal, public affairs manager at insulation producer Knauf Insulation. “It’s a massive opportunity and technologies are already in place,” she added.”


Finland, Japan open call for research cooperation

CSC – IT Center for Science calls for expressions of interest towards coordinated research collaboration projects in the area of High-Performance Computing (HPC) applications between Finland and Japan.

Finland has made significant investments in globally competitive research infrastructures such as LUMI infrastructure, located in CSC’s data center in Kajaani and hosted by the LUMI consortium. The objective of the call is to foster international scientific collaboration opportunities of Finnish research teams and research flagships by enabling the use of world-class infrastructures in collaborative projects.

In addition to supporting the achievement of scientific results and internationalization of Finnish research, the selected collaborative projects will boost the development and global importance of Finland’s EuroHPC ecosystem and strengthen its societal impact by contributing to global grand challenges.

Collaborative projects will be agreed under the umbrella of the organization-level Memorandum of Collaboration (MoC) between CSC and RIKEN Center for Computational Science (R-CCS).

Japan (R-CCS) hosts Fugaku HPC infrastructure that holds the number one position in Linpack TOP500 performance list of supercomputers. Fugaku is used in applications that contribute to the Society 5.0 plan, particularly in drug discovery, personalized and preventive medicine, simulations of natural disasters, weather and climate forecasting, energy creation, storage, and use; development of clean energy; new material development; new design and production processes.

The aim is to enable 2-5 collaborative projects bringing together Finnish representatives with RIKEN counterparts to strengthen international HPC and research cooperation, benefit from the available capabilities and leverage the organization-level cooperation agreements. Funding is available for Finland-based (contractual arrangements will be done between CSC and Finland-based research organizations) researchers and research teams. In addition to evaluation of scientific excellence, the selection process will emphasize the feasibility of contractual agreement and common interests with the Japanese counterparts, technical feasibility, and the above-mentioned MoC.

Click here to read more.


EU Blue Economy report: Ocean economy fuels European green transition

The European Commission has published its annual EU Blue Economy Report to take stock and uncover the latest trends and developments in all economic sectors related to the oceans and coastal areas. With close to 4.5 million people employed, a turnover of more than €665 billion and €184 billion in gross value added, the EU blue economy sectors contribute significantly to the EU’s economy, especially in the coastal regions. Moreover, the report notes that the EU’s blue sectors are a spawning ground for innovative solutions and technologies that can help fight climate change and take the green transition to the next level. It also points at the high cost of inaction to fight climate change, as the damage of rising sea levels could cause a direct loss of more than €200 billion per year by 2080 in the EU.

Click here to read the report.


The “Women in the Blue Economy” call for proposals is now open

The European Commission has launched the “Women in the Blue Economy” call for proposals under the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF). With a EUR 2.5 million budget, the call will help increase the participation of women in the different sectors of the blue economy, such as fisheries, aquaculture, shipbuilding, maritime transport, offshore renewable energy, blue bioeconomy, as well as inland and offshore aquaculture. Up to 2 projects are expected to be funded, with an exceptional co-funding of 90%.

The objective is to overcome the existing constraints in all aspects of the maritime sector, in particular recruitment, training, capacity-building, technical cooperation and promotions, so that every person can fully and safely participate in the activities of the sustainable blue economy.

The actions funded under this call will help sustainable blue economy sectors to embrace a deep and structural change to facilitate the inclusion of women in the wider maritime economy, thus contributing to a more gender equal society as a whole.

Click here for more information on how and when to apply.


EPFL: A new law unchains fusion energy

Physicists at EPFL, within a large European collaboration, have revised one of the fundamental laws that has been foundational to plasma and fusion research for over three decades, even governing the design of megaprojects like ITER. The update shows that we can actually safely use more hydrogen fuel in fusion reactors, and therefore obtain more energy than previously thought.

Fusion is one of the most promising sources of future energy. It involves two atomic nuclei combining into one, thereby releasing enormous amounts of energy. In fact, we experience fusion every day: the Sun’s warmth comes from hydrogen nuclei fusing into heavier helium atoms.

There is currently an international fusion research megaproject called ITER, which aims to replicate the fusion processes of the Sun to create energy on the Earth. Its aim is the creation of high temperature plasma that provides the right environment for fusion to occur, producing energy.

Plasmas — an ionized state of matter similar to a gas – are made up of positively charge nuclei and negatively charged electrons, and are almost a million times less dense than the air we breathe. Plasmas are created by subjecting “the fusion fuel” – hydrogen atoms – to extremely high temperatures (10 times that of the core of the Sun), forcing electrons to separate from their atomic nuclei. The process takes place inside a donut-shaped (“toroidal”) structure called a “tokamak”.

Read more here.

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