Speaking at the One Planet – One Polar Summit, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Iliana Ivanova, has reaffirmed the important role of the EU as a major player in global polar research.
Commissioner Ivanova said:
“Without a healthy and integral ocean and cryosphere, humanity and the planet cannot thrive. We gathered at the Polar Summit not only to discuss but to act: let us safeguard the most vulnerable components of our planet. With hundreds of millions euros invested through the EU Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe programmes into polar research, we are charting a course that not only seeks to understand and protect our cryosphere, but also prepares our communities for the transformations ahead.”
Focusing on the regions on the frontline of climate disruption, the One Planet - Polar Summit takes place this week in Paris and aims to answer the urgent call for an unprecedented and concerted mobilisation of the international community to face the effects of climate disruption, which are warming the Arctic and Antarctic faster than ever before.
In this context, the European Union is a major worldwide funder and supporter of polar research through its framework programmes for research and innovation, and through its policy initiatives and actions, including the EU Mission Restore our Ocean and Waters. Its work builds scientific knowledge and supports actions on global climate change and biosphere integrity by investing in observations, improved modelling and predicting of impacts, and deployment of solutions.
The European research and innovation programmes contribute to polar science with a wide portfolio of European projects and programmes with a regional breakdown of:
- Arctic: 139 projects, 372 million EUR
Horizon 2020 100 projects, 257 million EUR
Horizon Europe 39 projects 115 million EUR
- Antarctic: 55 projects, 115 million EUR
Horizon 2020 44 projects, 102 million EUR
Horizon Europe 11 projects 14 million EUR
- Polar: 65 projects, 140 million EUR
Horizon 2020 53 projects, 101 million EUR
Horizon Europe 12 projects 37 million EUR
This funding is constantly evolving, with new projects being signed and started working all the time.
One of the latest scientific advancements in the EU Research and Innovation polar portfolio is the NUNATARYUK project. This project has published in October 2023 the Arctic Permafrost Atlas, presenting state-of-the-art knowledge about permafrost and the impacts of permafrost thaw on human communities in the Arctic.
The importance of the Polar regions
To date, global warming has affected the two polar regions and the ocean in different ways. Climate change is warming up the Arctic four times faster than the rest of the world. Known as the Arctic amplification, since 1979, the Arctic has warmed on average four times faster than the planet. Greenland’s glaciers are now releasing hundreds of billion tonnes of melted ice into the ocean each year. While the Arctic is undergoing fundamental changes and is gradually losing its distinctive polar character, the observable changes in the Antarctic are primarily focused on two regions: West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula.
Such changes will affect the planet through rising sea levels, changing weather patterns, a higher incidence of extreme weather events, permafrost thawing, and release of greenhouse gases and various pathogens, etc. Some of these changes are irreversible on human timescales. They impact the future of humankind and all species inhabiting our planet, as well as its biodiversity, already under pressure.
EU investments and initiatives
The European research and innovation framework programmes have dedicated substantial efforts to increase our understanding of the fundamental changes that are touching the polar regions differently and more rapidly compared to the rest of the world.
Research reinforces the European and global scientific capacity and develops new ways of tackling emerging threats. It supports decision-making for mitigating and adapting to climate change as well as preserving the health of the polar regions. The high-quality research carried out supports the transformative European Green Deal agenda with transparent, comprehensive and balanced scientific evidence and innovative solutions. It is essential for policy-making and it contributes significantly to global scientific assessments such as IPCC, and to global ocean and cryosphere observation programmes and initiatives.
At European scale there is also an excellent set of programmes and partnerships supporting the polar science objectives. Such as:
- The EU promotes coordination activities of clusters of projects as part of the EU Polar Cluster, coordinated by the EU PolarNET2. EU PolarNET2 is the world’s largest consortium of polar research expertise and infrastructures, composed of 25 partners representing 21 countries. The EU Polar Cluster is a growing network of EU-funded Polar, Arctic and Antarctic research projects and, as such, an example of thematic cooperation. The Cluster merges a broad spectrum of research and coordination activities and contributes with European-generated knowledge to informed decision making.
- To further provide a coordinated response to the global challenges of this century, the European Commission and the European Space Agency joined forces in 2020 and launched a joint Earth System Science Initiative, aiming at establishing an effective alignment of selected scientific activities. One of the research themes is on Polar.
- The EU Mission Restore our Ocean and Waters includes a Lighthouse on the Atlantic and the Arctic. It supports a broad mobilisation to protect and restore marine and inland waters biodiversity and ecosystems, reduce pollution, and promote a carbon-neutral blue economy. Horizon Europe already invested more than 350M euros in 2021-23 in this Mission. The Digital Twin of the Ocean including the poles, with an EU prototype announced to be delivered by 2024 as part of this EU Mission, is also a relevant European investment in this context.
- The Sustainable Blue Economy Partnership (SBEP) also contributes to more sustained and continuous observation and monitoring of maritime activities and of the biological, chemical, physical, geological and hydrological characteristics of ocean ecosystems. Research will address key knowledge gaps that are fundamental to baseline assessments and forward projections of ocean health and mitigation of climate change and ocean acidification. For the first joint transnational call of the SBEP, proposals were also addressing the Arctic Ocean.
- The All-Atlantic Ocean Research and Innovation Alliance (AAORIA), a major European ocean science diplomacy tool, includes in its renewed mandate a pole-to-pole dimension which can bring together a large Atlantic community to work for common objectives including polar research and innovation. In the first decade of the Alliance a set of polar projects were supported by the EU with EUR 83M.
One Planet – Polar Summit event page
- Publication date
- 9 November 2023
- Directorate-General for Research and Innovation