Together for an innovative and sustainable Europe

Europe aims to become climate neutral by 2050. The path to greater sustainability was discussed at the European Forum on Science & Education for Sustainability in Berlin. The results will provide fresh impetus for research policy in the EU.

We have to use education and research to encourage and promote innovations in climate change mitigation and transform our energy system in order to ensure that Europe is climate neutral by 2050. Green hydrogen will play a decisive role in this process. Together with the European Commission, Germany aims to establish a European hydrogen union. Green hydrogen will enable us to use renewable sources of energy in industry, our heating supply and transportation systems.

Anja Karliczek beim „European Forum on Science & Education for Sustainability 2020“
Anja Karliczek at the European Forum on Science & Education for Sustainability 2020: "We want to make Europe the world´s first climate neutral continent by 2050." © Florian Gaertner/

Over the next few years, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) will invest €300 million in climate protection research alone.

Preserving biodiversity, protecting the environment and maintaining social cohesion are existential challenges – not only for all Europeans, but for everyone around the world. The BMBF’s project funding work in the fields of sustainability, climate and energy therefore covers research topics such as biodiversity, clean oceans and the circular economy.

Trio Presidency committed to education and research for sustainability

When the German Presidency of the Council of the EU finishes at the end of the year, Portugal will take over in the first half of 2021, followed by Slovenia. Together, these three countries make up what is known as a trio presidency. The citizen science campaign “Plastic Pirates – Go Europe!” launched by the trio encourages the involvement of young people in Europe, thus providing a link between education and research. School children from Germany, Portugal and Slovenia will cooperate to gather data on plastic waste which will then be analysed by scientists from these three countries. This will provide information about the state of Europe’s rivers while contributing to environmental education. It is the first time that there has been an overarching joint trio activity of this kind.

European Forum on Science & Education for Sustainability (#EFSES2020)

Held in English, the European Forum on Science & Education for Sustainability (#EFSES2020) marks the first time that the BMBF has organized a European conference on sustainability that addresses research and education at the same time. The theme of the conference was “From Ambition to Action – Together for an Innovative and Sustainable Europe”. The conference was held virtually as part of the German Council Presidency and was broadcast live from Berlin.

In two sessions, participants discussed how sustainable innovations can be made accessible to a wider audience more quickly and how we can ensure that no one is left behind in the face of upcoming changes.

  • How can we scale sustainable innovations?
  • How can changes in behaviour lead to a more sustainable Europe?

Panellists included Connie Hedegaard, former European Commissioner for Climate Action, Saori Dubourg, Member of the Board of Executive Directors at BASF SE, Johan Rockström, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and Daniella Tilbury, Commissioner for Sustainable Development and Future Generations for Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar.

Other highlights of the event included a video message from astronaut Alexander Gerst and a report from Torsten Kanzow of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research who was the expedition leader for the third leg of the biggest Arctic expedition of all time – the MOSAiC expedition.

Participants spent the afternoon in four workshops, where they developed proposals for a conference paper on how the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can be improved upon in the European programmes Horizon Europe and Erasmus+.

  1. Making Europe climate neutral
  2. Reversing inequalities
  3. Moving education towards sustainability
  4. Circular economy for SDGs

This meant that the conference was also very important for the European Commission. Accordingly, Jean-Eric Paquet, Director-General for Research and Innovation at the Commission, gave a keynote speech to set the stage for the workshops.

Portugal will continue with the topic of sustainability in Europe when it takes over the Council Presidency in January 2021 by hosting the Coimbra Sustainability Conference 2021. At the end of the event, Professor Helena Pereira, President of the Portuguese Foundation of Science and Technology (Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, FCT), presented an overview of the activities on research and education for sustainability that are planned for the Portuguese Council Presidency.

Conference paper “From Ambition to Action: Enhancing the Impact of Science, Innovation and Education for an Innovative and Sustainable Europe”

The outcome of the conference will provide fresh stimulus for the European programmes Horizon Europe and Erasmus+ and will be summarized in a conference paper that will be made available here in the next few months.