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In this Morning Brief, we open with an event on Energy Efficiency taking place next Monday, from a science advice perspective, news that the Commission is going to be reviewing their research agenda due to the war in Ukraine, new developments in the European Parliament as MEPs agree that the EU needs to act as a global standard-setter in regards to artificial intelligence, EU member states map out plans for green hydrogen research and innovation, the FAO released a new publication on sustainable forest use, 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:

Event: Energy Efficiency – A science advice perspective

If ‘energy efficiency’ was a fuel, it would be the single largest source of energy in the EU. Improvements in energy efficiency since 1990 have reduced primary energy demand by more than 30%. But, while energy efficiency has continued to improve in recent years, this improvement is getting harder and harder to sustain — partly because we are running out of low-hanging fruit.

Don’t miss this event next Monday, March 28th, hosted by MEP Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, Co-chair of the European Parliament Intergroup on ‘Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development’.

Click here for more information and to register.


War in Ukraine: Commission to review research agenda, says Paquet

According to Science|Business, “The European Commission is to review its research agenda to reflect EU-wide policy changes following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Jean Eric Paquet, the director general of the European Commission’s research directorate told delegates at a conference on Monday. “So far we have been a bit careful not to change or to choose a significant change of the research agenda in the midst of the war,” said Paquet. “This is a process which I will kick off at the request of the commissioner in April.” It is increasingly likely that the EU will invest more money for research on energy, defence and security. However, the Commission was not able to confirm what kind of changes researchers should expect in the coming months as a result of the war and shifting political priorities. (…) Russia’s war in Ukraine is forcing the EU to rethink its climate strategy, along with the technologies needed to achieve its climate goals. The EU is now planning to slow down the phasing out of coal, given it is becoming increasingly risky to rely on gas supplies from Russia. Gas was also seen as a transition fuel in Europe’s path to zero carbon emissions by the middle of this century.”.


Artificial Intelligence: The EU needs to act as a global standard-setter

The European Parliament’s Special Committee on Artificial Intelligence in a Digital Age (AIDA) adopted its final recommendations on Tuesday, concluding 18 months of inquiries. The adopted text says that the public debate on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) should focus on this technology’s enormous potential to complement humans.

The text warns that the EU has fallen behind in the global race for tech leadership. As a result, there is a risk that standards will be developed elsewhere in the future, often by non-democratic actors, while the EU needs to act as a global standard-setter in AI.

MEPs identified policy options that could unlock AI’s potential in health, the environment and climate change, to help combat pandemics and global hunger, as well as enhancing people’s quality of life through personalised medicine. AI, if combined with the necessary support infrastructure, education and training, can increase capital and labour productivity, innovation, sustainable growth and job creation, they add. The EU should not always regulate AI as a technology. Instead, the level of regulatory intervention should be proportionate to the type of risk associated with using an AI system in a particular way.

Click here for further information.


€750 funding gap could curtail ambitions for Copernicus from mid-2024

According to Science|Business, “The EU will not be trimming its Copernicus ambitions until at least mid-2024, despite the €750 million hole in its budget caused by the UK’s contribution being held hostage by political disputes. With a budget of €5.8 billion until 2027 there’s enough to plough on “at a normal pace until at least mid-2024,” Mauro Facchini, head of the Copernicus unit at the Commission, told the European Parliament’s industry, research and energy committee (ITRE) on Monday. “After that date, we may need to slow down some of [the missions] depending on the effective level of resources available.” The Copernicus earth observation system used to monitor EU borders and climate change, track agricultural land use, facilitate urban management and map out forests, among many other applications. In recent weeks, it has helped monitor the flows of millions of Ukrainian refugees to EU member states following the unjustified attack by Russia. (…) Today, Copernicus is state of the art, but in the next few decades it will need a big overhaul to keep up with the times. Currently, there are eight satellites in orbit and more are ready to launch, in some cases to replace existing satellites, in others to reinforce the constellations.”.


Sustainable forest use helps tackle the climate crisis and achieve the SDGs

From drinking a glass of water to building a house, forests are precious resources for people’s lives and are key to solving many global challenges, including the climate crisis and poverty, according to a new report developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in collaboration with the European Forest Institute (EFI).

The publication: Forest Products in the global bioeconomy: Enabling substitution with wood-based products and contributing to sustainable development goals, was launched on the occasion of the International Day of Forests 2022.

The report is a comprehensive document that outlines wood-based innovations that pave the way for the use of forest products in ways that decrease environmental impact and waste generation. It also offers the private sector, governments, international cooperation bodies and researchers a set of recommendations to both enable and boost the substitution of products which are not sustainable from a social, economic on environmental perspective.


Europeans rally behind Green Deal in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine

According to EURACTIV, “As the war in Ukraine continues to rage and claim more lives, Europeans are finding new reasons to push forward the EU Green Deal as the surest way of severing their dependence on Russian fossil fuels. Europe relies on Russia for around 40% of its gas, 25% of its oil and 45% of its coal. But far from shaking Europe’s green convictions, the war in Ukraine has only reinforced them. During a meeting of the EU’s 27 environment ministers last week, there was overwhelming support for speeding up climate legislation as a way of breaking Europe’s dependence on Russia. “The international context has changed dramatically, and our debate now takes place in a very serious situation and takes on a whole new tenor given the threat to European sovereignty,” said French ecological transition minister Barbara Pompili as she opened the meeting. “We have to respond to the [climate] crisis, but we should also look at our need for energy independence,” she added. Every minister at the meeting mentioned the war in Ukraine during their intervention, with almost all of them repeating the need to break away from Russian fossil fuels. “Every time we fill our cars with Russian diesel and every time we heat our houses with Russian gas, we are effectively paying for Putin’s war machine, and this has to stop,” said Latvian environment minister Artūrs Toms Plešs. Even for a country like Bulgaria, which is almost 100% dependent on Russian gas, the push for renewables is now becoming a security priority. “Russia does not produce our solar panels or wind turbines. It only produces fossil fuels – we have to phase them away,” said Borislav Sandov, deputy prime minister and environment minister in Bulgaria. Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission who has been pushing her Green Deal for more than two years, is now labelling the push for renewables, energy efficiency and emissions reductions as ‘security policy’.”.


Member states map out plans for green hydrogen R&I

As Europe looks to reduce its dependency on Russian energy, a German-led initiative has identified the most pressing research and innovation challenges to setting up a European green hydrogen economy.

The strategic agenda lists the challenges and priorities for areas such as production, transport and infrastructure, and market stimulation. It also calls for a joint platform where member states and the European Commission could coordinate initiatives. 

The plan is a pilot initiative of the new European Research Area, announced back in 2020 during the German presidency of the EU Council of member states. It will feed into a conference on green hydrogen in May. “The Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda is to serve as a nucleus on the way towards a European Hydrogen Union,” said Bettina Stark-Watzinger, Germany’s research minister. 

Europe has been touting green hydrogen as a key ingredient of its decarbonisation strategy in sectors such as heavy duty transport, aviation, and steelmaking.


Big Tech boosts lobbying spending in Brussels

According to Politico, “The world’s largest tech companies increased their spending for lobbying activities in Brussels last year as discussions over new and far-reaching tech rules were heating up. Apple, Amazon, Meta, Google and Microsoft all boosted their lobbying spending, according to new data from the EU Transparency Register. The increase, which hasn’t been previously reported, came as the bloc discussed a set of new rules aimed at reining in the power of the internet giants and cracking down on illegal content. “With this update we are finally seeing how much Big Tech declares spending to lobby the EU while it prepared key new rules like the Digital Services Act, the Digital Markets Act and the Artificial Intelligence Act,” Margarida Silva, researcher at research and campaign group Corporate Europe Observatory, told POLITICO. “As expected, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon have all increased their lobbying budgets during this period — even though COVID restrictions meant it was mostly done remotely,” she added. Apple roughly doubled its spending to around €7 million in the period from October 2020 to September 2021. In the previous 12-month period, its spending was around €3.7 million, according to data from lobbyfact.eu. The increase is even more striking if the most recent data is compared with previous years. In 2014, for example, Apple’s lobbying spending was less than a million euros. The Cupertino, California-based company also beefed up its team of lobbyists, declaring 7.2 full-time equivalent lobbying positions compared with 4.5 previously. The amounts in the Transparency Register are reported as ranges; for example for Apple the range is €6.5 million to €7 million. At the upper range, the five tech giants spent €29.5 million on lobbying EU institutions in the period covered by the new data, an increase of almost one-quarter from the previous period.”.


Commission adopts new rules further developing the Fertilising Products Regulation

The Commission adopted new rules further building the circular economy for fertilising products. They ensure safe use of by-products and high purity materials as component materials in EU fertilising products and create new opportunities to recover nutrients from various waste streams.

The high purity materials concerned are ammonium salts, sulphate salts, phosphate salts, elemental sulphur, calcium carbonate and calcium oxide. Ammonium salts could be recovered from off-gases from manure, for example, and replace conventional nitrogen fertilisers. Similarly, phosphate salts may be recovered and provide an alternative to phosphate rock fertilisers.

All the materials have a significant market demand and have proven their high agronomic value during a long history of use in the field. The new rules lay down safety requirements, such as limit values for the heavy metals chromium and vanadium, to ensure that such materials will not risk our health or environment.

The new rules are based on scientific assessments of the Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC). They are under the scrutiny of the European Parliament and the Council. If no objections are made, they will apply from 16 July 2022.


Extend life of key climate sensor that maps world’s forests, NASA told

According to The Guardian, “Forest experts and scientists are asking Nasa to extend the life of a “key” climate and biodiversity sensor due to be destroyed in the Earth’s atmosphere early next year. The Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (Gedi) mission – pronounced like Jedi in Star Wars – was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the International Space Station (ISS) in December 2018, and has provided the first 3D map of the world’s forests. Data from the Nasa mission, which has used billions of laser beam signals to measure the height, shape and health of the Earth’s trees since April 2019, has been helping scientists answer questions about land-use change, a key driver of the climate crisis and biodiversity loss, including how much carbon trees store and the effect of forest fires on the atmosphere. The $150m project is scheduled to be “de-orbited” from the ISS early next year and the sensor – roughly the size of a fridge – will be incinerated in the Earth’s atmosphere. Researchers overseeing the project, based at the University of Maryland, have asked for an extension to allow Gedi to finish its work and calibrate the results with other satellites due to launch this decade that will monitor the planet’s ecosystems. Early results from the project indicate there could be much more carbon stored on land than previously thought.”.


Commission launches one-stop-shop to support researchers of Ukraine

The Commission launched the ‘European Research Area for Ukraine‘ (ERA4Ukraine) portal, a one-stop-shop for information and support services to Ukraine-based researchers and researchers fleeing Ukraine. The portal brings together initiatives at the EU level, per country and from non-governmental groups. It aims to help affected researchers find housing and job opportunities, facilitate the recognition of their diplomas, and offer other services.

The ERA4Ukraine portal is launched on the existing EURAXESS network, which supports researchers by connecting more than 600 centres and 43 national portals across the EU Member States and countries associated to Horizon Europe. All information will soon be available in both English and Ukrainian. Each Member State and associated country has a national portal on which support services are listed in a structured way. So far, 30 country portals are available.


Public transportation operators to demand solution to rising energy prices

According to EURACTIV, “Representatives of the Spanish National Road Transport Committee (Comité Nacional de Transporte por Carretera, CNTC) will meet on today with Transport Minister, Raquel Sánchez, to “inform her of the critical situation the sector is going through due to the exponential rise in energy prices”, the association stressed in a press release. “We are very aware of the claims of the sector and in particular of the self-employed and SMEs, and therefore I ask for a vote of confidence (of the affected workers),” Raquel Sánchez said in an interview aired on Tuesday by private TV station Telecinco. However, the president of the Spanish National Taxi Association (ANTAXI), Julio Sanz, who represents the sector’s interests in the CNTC, said on Tuesday that drivers would have “serious problems to survive” if energy prices continue to soar. “Portugal and France have already adopted measures” to reduce the impact of energy prices in the transport sector, Sanz recalled.”.

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