VERA – Forward Visions on the European Research Area

VERA is funded by the European Union's FP7 programme for research,
technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 290705

Scenario 4

Times of Crises – Experts at the Wheel

The driving force of this scenario is the onset of dramatic climate events with catastrophic effects on the environment and eventually our health and way of life. These disruptive forces are levers for a deep societal transformation. The thrust: As a consequence, the growth paradigm is completely replaced by a new sense of “deep sustainability” as the basis for all economic, political and societal activities. The full recovery from the economic and financial crises of the early years of the century supports these developments. Mitigation and adaptation to the effects of the climate events are the main policy concerns. Experts working on understanding environmental phenomena and anticipating its dynamics gain substantial power and responsibility in policy processes, as policies rely strongly on scientifically produced evidence. At the same time, the research and innovation landscape has become more diverse, opening up to cross-disciplinary collaborations and unconventional initiatives to collaborate with societal actors. Large research programmes are in place to boost mitigation and adaptation from different angles – ranging from breakthrough-driven research to speeding up the innovation process. As sustainability research evolves into a mainstream activity, comparable to the widespread acquisition of management skills decades before, the researcher base in sustainability-related fields expands significantly, integrating larger numbers of women, retired persons, and those living in remote areas. Addressing societal challenges: Under the overarching goal of mitigation and adaptation to the effects of the climate crisis, several other challenges are addressed, including urban management, energy provision, new forms of housing and mobility, food production and circulation and many more. European-level policies: In the face of the climate crisis, a political choice was made to delegate the strategy and programming of mitigation and adaptation efforts to the European level, where the involvement of experts in policy processes is managed by re-vitalizing the Comitology system within the European Commission. Europe in the world: The sustainability rationale is adopted around the globe, but at different speeds and in a variety of ways. Numerous collaborations are in place for joint action, and Europe operates a large aid programme for those regions lagging behind.

Critical policy issues emerging from this scenario

In the attached report we explore the implications for the research and innovation landscape, read the extended scenario text on pp. 30-34. From this extended view, we derived a set of key institutional and policy features:


Policy priorities

1- There is only one overarching societal priority: the mitigation and adaptation to the climate crisis.

2- Definition of R&D programmes to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change in a variety of fields including urban management, housing, energy provision, mobility, food production and circulation, endangered species, adaptation of maritime regions and seaside cities.

3- Use of public procurement to support co-development of new products, services and systems that can help deal with the new environmental situation.

4- Introduction of new standards and regulations to support environment-friendly development, manufacturing, use and disposal of products.

Institutional foci

5- Many orientation and programming functions have been transferred to the EU and its organisations. Responsibility to shape and operate the set of domain-specific, problem-solving programmes lies in EU organisations.

6- Many programming functions take place within the decision-making structures of the European Commission.

7- Central role of European-level resources. Wider remit of activities: funds for research, experimentation and innovation

8- Complementary support offered by regional, national and European organisations.

9- Multiple complementary activities driven by concerned groups and philanthropic organizations, covering both programming and performing functions.

10- International coordination and collaborative arrangements by national agencies enabling systematic but distributed joined-action (along the lines of ERA-Nets, and the EUREKA model).

11- Collective experimentation involving actors at different levels (local, regional,…) are an important feature of the performance of STP programmes.

12- Evolving role of PROs as solution integrators (e.g. new water management solutions) and as key actors in shaping the necessary infrastructures for adaptation research, e.g. satellite monitoring.

Other implications of the scenario

13- Important role of environmental expert community, going beyond the provision of scientific and technical, to become directly involved in political decisions and in processes of institutional change.

14- Emergence of new European programmes supporting bottom-up initiatives promoted by societal actors in collaboration with researchers from a variety of disciplines.

Climate change and the energy sector in this scenario

VERA scenario 4: Times of Crises – Experts at the Wheel creates in many ways promising points of departure for the sustainable energy future and climate change mitigation. In this scenario European level institutions have a strong role in prioritisation of RTDI and consultation of sustainability experts and stakeholders play an important role. In this scenario RTDI governance stretches across all governance levels and societal domains and applies federal and deliberative principles. The science-in-society contract binds RTDI to deliver value with regard to sustainability, and the commitment to overall RTDI governance to sustainability creates strong basis for knowledge and innovation driven long term changes in the European energy structures. These characteristics of Scenario 4 create good starting points for the creation of sustainable, renewable driven energy and climate change strategies. Moreover, this development is contributed by the EC´s DG on research and innovation which strongly cooperates with all other DGs (e.g. energy, transport, agriculture) to align missions and implement RTDI as a part of coordinated and sustainable transition activities. Also the global perspective of sustainable innovation systems is well integrated in this approach: governance, architectures and processes are globally interconnected.

In Scenario 4 Europe shows relatively high investments in RTD compared to most other regions worldwide and, moreover, European research is funded by a wide range of actors – all defining RTDI tasks for sustainability, also towards renewables and reduction of GHG emissions. In this scenario private and public sector research around the globe is complemented by citizen science and the maker movement, enforcing also conditions for a more sustainable energy future. The science in society contract and citizen science will tie research and innovation also in energy and related climate change fields as well as related private and public actors and other stakeholders closer to each other. Energy and climate change issues are strongly in most agendas, as sustainability is the most important rationale for the organization of social, political and economic life. This scenario assumes also that sustainable innovations will pave the way for relatively stable GDPs and labour markets in Europe. In spite of the facts that “Next Eleven” countries emerged as the “next tigers” in the world economy and there is a power shift to Asia, Scenario 4 assumes that the polycentric world is democratizing. This may lead towards more intensive and constructive global collaboration also in the fields of more sustainable energy technologies in production and consumption as well as towards consequent mitigation of impacts of climate change.

In conclusion, in general Scenario 4 seems to give promising future perspectives for RTDI driven sustainable energy technology development and mitigation of climate change, given support to long-term strategies and programs of the EU. In many ways Scenario 4 gives most promising future perspective of all four VERA scenarios both on European as well as on global level.