Posts Tagged ‘health’

EFP Brief No. 228: Visions for Horizon 2020 from Copenhagen Research Forum

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

In January 2012, the Copenhagen Research Forum (CRF) gathered 80 European scientists to discuss the societal chal-lenges to be addressed by Horizon 2020, the next framework programme for European research and innovation, and consider how research could contribute the best solutions. This EFP brief explains the process behind the CRF and gives a summary of recommendations. It ends with a discussion on cross-disciplinarity and strategic partnerships as tools for organising research in order to solve complex societal challenges.

Visions for Horizon 2020 – from Copenhagen Research Forum

The EU Commission’s proposal for a new framework programme, Horizon 2020, is devoted to strengthening the strategic organisation of European research and innovation. The ambition is to mobilise excellent scientists across various branches of knowledge in order to provide solutions for complex societal challenges.

The Copenhagen Research Forum (CRF) set out to assemble a broad spectrum of leading European scientists to give their view on the Commission’s choice of societal challenges and possible ways of implementing Horizon 2020 as a means of tackling them. Approximately 600 scientists contributed throughout the process.

The CRF recommendations clearly affirm the EU Commission’s selection of societal challenges as well as the idea of supporting cross-disciplinary collaboration as a means to address crosscutting problems within and across challenges. The recommendations also send a strong signal of support for a framework where excellence, cross-disciplinarity and simplicity in administrative processes are key components.

The following pages provide an overview of the process behind the CRF, the main recommendations as well as a discussion of new instruments to be implemented to support cross-disciplinarity.

The CRF Process

The main idea behind CRF was to involve a broad spectrum of Europe’s top-level researchers in the making of Horizon 2020 since part of its preparation would take place during the Danish EU presidency in the first half of 2012.

The University of Copenhagen, Technical University of Denmark and the Capital Region of Denmark wanted the scientific community to provide unbiased input to Horizon 2020, with the aim of making Horizon 2020 as attractive as possible to researchers working in the areas covered by the six societal challenges. Professor Liselotte Højgaard was appointed as Chair of CRF.

The concept was finalised in the summer of 2011. The key issue was that CRF should convey ideas, visions and comments from outstanding researchers, all of whom were invited personally to join CRF. A full list of names of conference participants may be found in the CRF report (see link on the last page).

The process comprised several steps and organisational roles:

Chairship – This involved contacting researchers for the six groups and establishing a chairship comprised of one Dane and one European researcher for each challenge:

  • Health: Professor Liselotte Højgaard MD, DMSc and Professor Deborah Smith.
  • Food & Agriculture: Professor Peter Olesen and Director Kees de Gooijer.
  • Energy: Dr. Jørgen Kjems and Professor Kjell Hugo Bendiksen.
  • Transport: Head of Dept. Niels Buus Kristensen and Programme Director Dr. Christian Piehler.
  • Climate & Resources: Professor Katherine Richardson and Professor Johan Rockström.
  • Society: Professor Ole Wæver and Professor Loet Leydesdorff.

The six panel chairships were asked to invite up to 100 researchers to offer their views in a virtual discussion forum. Out of the invitees, 15 researchers from each group were also asked to meet at a workshop conference in Copenhagen on 16 January 2012 shortly after the Danish EU presidency began.

Virtual discussion forum – Divided equally between the six societal challenges, the 600 researchers were invited to comment on the draft text of Horizon 2020. The researchers were asked to contribute personal visions for the future as well as point out needs and possible solutions. They were also asked to suggest and comment on the technologies and the priorities within the given challenge as well as consider the instruments and implementation needed to ensure success as seen from a scientific perspective. Lastly, they were requested to contribute their ideas on how to secure the link between research and the innovation perspective stressed in Horizon 2020. All of the input was collected in a draft report that formed the basis of the aforementioned conference in Copenhagen.

Conference – On 16 January 2012, the six panels met and discussed the draft report, offering comments and adding new ideas inspired by the input collected in the virtual discussion forum. The aim was to reach agreement on (1) the views and recommendations in each of the six panels, (2) a joint statement during plenary sessions expressing the view on scientific issues cutting across all six challenges and (3) recommendations for the implementation of a challenge-oriented framework as a basis for excellent research and far-reaching solutions.

The Danish Minister of Science, Innovation and Higher Education, Morten Østergaard, attended the conference.

Outcome – The conference resulted in a condensed report offering ideas and solutions that could help form Horizon 2020 from a scientific point of view. The conclusions were presented to the European community in an open dialogue as explained in the following.

Dissemination – The CRF recommendations were presented to the EU Council of Ministers’ meeting in Copenhagen on 1 February 2012 and subsequently to the European Commission, the European Parliament as well as directly to Director General for DG Research and Innovation, Robert Jan Smits. The dissemination activities were closely connected to the Danish EU presidency.

In the following section, we provide key statements from the CRF panels’ recommendations. A full version can be found in the report.

Key CRF Recommendations for Each Societal Challenge

Health, Demographic Change and Wellbeing
  • Biomedical research and its implementation in clinical practice must be supported and accelerated. This requires a paradigm shift towards personalised medicine.
  • The global revolution in biomedicine is providing new technologies. Utilising those technologies requires vast efforts to expand and implement them.
  • A European platform engaging all key stakeholders to ensure discovery and delivery of these technologies will be crucial.
  • Establishment of a European Strategic Action for Healthier Citizens is also recommended to assist in strategic long-term healthcare research and planning, including preventive measures and the spread of best practice across Europe.

Food Security, Sustainable Agriculture, Marine and Maritime Research and the Bio-economy

  • Overriding challenges of increasing demand, competition for land use and other resource scarcities create massive pressure to produce significantly more per unit of a given resource.
  • Food, agriculture and land use must be seen in a complex and multi-directional value chain encompassing climate, available resources, environmental sustainability, transport, energy and health perspectives, not to mention social and economic requirements.
  • Key objectives are reductions in food waste and water consumption, valorisation of all bio-resources, including municipal bio-waste and agro- and bio-industrial side streams as well as the recycling of sufficient amounts of carbon and phosphor to maintain soil vitality.
  • Increasing prevalence of diet-related diseases and disorders calls for a balanced healthcare concept more geared towards prevention.
  • There is a need to create a collaborative innovation culture linking researchers, companies (especially SMEs), university education, NGOs and governments.
Secure, Clean and Efficient Energy
  • Horizon 2020 priorities should build on (1) a revised Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET Plan), including a critical update of technology road maps and (2) a new, complementary systemic approach to combine technological, economical, political, social and cultural research to facilitate the transformation of the energy system as a whole.
  • Collaboration of social sciences and humanities with ‘hard sciences’ must be recognised as necessary and organised and funded accordingly to meet the challenges at the system level.
  • Coupling of educational efforts with research and innovation is critical for realising the ambitious plans for technology implementation and the overall system transition agenda.
  • Direct mobilisation of universities in addressing systemic challenges should be given high priority.
Smart, Green and Integrated Transport
  • The complexity of transport challenges requires closer cooperation across scientific domains and integration across universities, research institutions and industry than in the past.
  • Meeting the challenge of developing smart and green transport systems requires not only technological solutions but also a better understanding of transport behaviour and the use of innovative and effective policy instruments.
  • This calls for a more pronounced role for the social sciences than in previous framework programmes as well as for strengthening the integration of scientific domains.
  • Technological innovation will still be of paramount importance, including cleaner and safer vehicles for all transportation modes, cost-effective alternative fuels, advanced ICT for personalised real-time travel information with modal integration, metropolitan traffic management and smart payment systems.


Climate Action,Resource Efficiency and Raw Materials
  • Climate change constitutes one of the most urgent global resource challenges facing society, where the resource in question is our atmosphere as a receptacle for greenhouse gas wastes.
  • Development of actions and strategies for dealing with this challenge can potentially provide models for dealing with resource scarcity issues (biodiversity, ecosystem services, water, phosphorous, ores and metals etc.).
  • A general paradigm for dealing with resource scarcity is reducing the need for – and more efficient use of – the resource, combined with the adaptation of human activities to changed conditions and/or the recognition of resource scarcity.
  • In dealing with resource scarcity in general and the climate in particular, a major challenge is to channel the knowledge gained on the mechanisms of the Earth’s system into political and societal action. This requires cross-disciplinary approaches that integrate natural sciences with other disciplines.
  • The focus of Horizon 2020 should thus be to underpin societal responses to climate challenges by including research on systemic interaction, collecting baseline information and establishing monitoring activities of different mitigation and adaptation approaches.
Inclusive, Innovative and Secure Societies
  • The focus on ‘inclusive, innovative and secure societies’ provides a highly welcome challenge to the social sciences and humanities (SSH).
  • The Horizon 2020 proposal tends to focus on ‘hard’ technologies, especially statistics, assessments and measures of efficiency (evidence-based lessons), with a corresponding tendency to employ a technocratic definition of the nature of the challenges (e.g. in the security part, critical infrastructure protection is prioritised over international politics).
  • This represents a limited political and social vision that underestimates the power of citizens and communities to contribute to the realisation of inclusion, innovation and security.
  • Corresponding to a vision comprising a broader mobilisation of societal energies are forms of research that employ a wider selection of methodologies and theories to study the dynamics of society as productive and generative, rather than as the site of problems to be solved.
  • SSH can play key roles in the other societal challenges as well. It is important that researchers in the SSH engage scholars in the hard sciences in a joint effort to cultivate research-based innovation regarding the way expertise and democracy interact.

Excellence,Cross-disciplinarity and Simplicity

The ambition of using societal challenges as a means to organise European research requires new approaches. The message from CRF is to pursue this through a combination of excellence, cross-disciplinarity and administrative simplicity.

The CRF report signals a strong will among scientists to enter into cross-disciplinary collaborations in order to address complex challenges for which no single discipline has the solution. But this must not violate an equally strong need for administrative simplification and a continued effort to support excellence in all research activities. Without excellence as a fundamental requirement in all programmes, the cross-disciplinary ambition may become a hollow and strange add-on to ‘real’ science. Whenever a problem calls for a disciplinary approach, this should not be substituted with cross-disciplinarity. Timely application of new approaches must be a key priority.

Strategic Partnerships as Tools for Organising Cross-disciplinary Collaboration?

One of the ways in which cross-disciplinarity may enter the Horizon 2020 programme could be by establishing strategic partnerships devoted to delivering solutions to complex challenges. Strategic partnerships could be a way for the Horizon 2020 programme to nurture new constellations of fields of expertise without establishing very detailed road maps or other guidelines ‘from above’. It would be important to involve industrial and civil society actors in the formulation of strategic objectives in order to ensure that strategic partnerships become platforms for linking strategic priorities from science, policy, industry and other actors and that these partnerships organise collaboration accordingly.

A key feature of implementing strategic partnerships should be to provide them with sufficient operational freedom so as to secure flexibility and entrepreneurship in how partnerships pursue their goals at the project level.

Strategic partnerships should be an invitation and challenge to European research to explore new models of collaboration. This corresponds also with a clear recommendation from the CRF advocating the setup of strategic platforms connecting long-term visions with mid- and short-term investments in a dynamic way.

The advantage of a partnership-based organisation of strategic research is that it allows coordinating a variety of fields and actors while creatively linking actors who would otherwise not establish collaborative ties. Coordination and connection are thus key aspects of well-functioning strategic partnerships – but only if the model builds on principles that afford strategic partnerships sufficient degrees of freedom in organising collaboration projects. Otherwise, the risk of reproducing fragmentation and the resulting problems known from FP7 cooperation will be substantial.

The CRF epitomises an interest among scientists to engage in shaping the framework conditions of research and innovation. Beyond the scope of specific recommendations, the CRF may serve as a source of inspiration for how to establish a direct dialogue between the scientific community and policymakers.

The CRF report was followed up by a ‘CRF II’ process during which the chairship of CRF put together a set of recommendations for the implementation of Horizon 2020 in light of the CRF report. The resulting paper (Højgaard, L. et al. [2012a]) focuses on recommendations for implementing measures to promote excellence, cross-disciplinarity, simplicity and impact. The recommendations for implementation along with the CRF report can be found at the CRF homepage (crf2012.org).

Authors: Brenneche, Nicolaj Tofte                   ntb.lpf@cbs.dk

Højgaard, Liselotte      liselotte.hoejgaard@regionh.dk

Sponsors: Capital Region of Denmark

Technical University of Denmark

University of Copenhagen

Type: European research and innovation policy, Horizon 2020
Organizer: Capital Region of Denmark, Technical University of Denmark, University of Copenhagen

Contact: Anne Line Mikkelsen, amik@adm.dtu.dk

Duration: 2011 – 2012
Budget: n.a.
Time Horizon: 2020
Date of Brief: November 2012

Download: EFP Brief No. 228_Visions for Horizon 2020.

Sources and References

Højgaard, L. et al (2012): Visions for Horizon 2020 – from Copenhagen Research Forum.

Højgaard, L. et al (2012a): Copenhagen Research Forum II. Recommendations for an optimized implementation of Horizon 2020.

Both are available at www.crf2012.org.

EFP Brief No. 227: Assessment of Global Megatrends

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

The aim of the European Environment Agency’s regular state of the environment and outlook reporting is to inform policymaking in Europe and beyond and help frame and implement policies. Information can also help citizens to better understand, care for and improve the environment. Global megatrends assessment complements the assessment of four European challenges (climate change, biodiversity loss, growing material use and concern for the environment, health and quality of life) while it identifies additional social, technological, economic, environmental and political factors beyond Europe’s control that are already affecting the European environment and are expected to continue to do so.

Demographics, Technologies, Trade Patterns and Consumption Put Pressure on the Environment

An assessment of global megatrends relevant to the European environment has been performed for the 2010 European state and outlook report prepared by the European Environment Agency (EEA) and a network of countries (EIONET). It focuses on identifying the most relevant global pressures on Europe. A global-to-European perspective is relevant to European environmental policymaking because Europe’s environmental challenges and management options are being reshaped by global drivers such as demographics, technologies, trade patterns and consumption.

While the future cannot be predicted with certainty, it also does not arise from nowhere. It is rooted in our present situation. Some trends visible today will extend over decades, changing slowly and exerting considerable force that will influence a wide array of areas, including social, technological, economic, environmental and political dimensions. While these megatrends cannot be predicted with certainty, they can be assessed in terms of plausible ‘what-if’ projections.

Mega-trends always include uncertainties or strategic shock factors. They can lead to a sudden slowdown or change of direction. This concerns especially events with low probability but far-reaching implications (so-called ‘wild cards’). In addition, a combination of sub-trends can emerge into novel megatrends over a longer time frame, for example several decades.

Many of these changes are interdependent and likely to unfold over decades. They can significantly affect Europe’s resilience in the long term. Naturally, such changes also offer unique opportunities for action. Effective measures, however, require better information and a better understanding of a highly complex and evolving situation.

The assessment grouped a rich diversity of information on global drivers of change into a number of social, technological, economic, environmental and political (governance) megatrends (see Table 1). It summarised key developments succinctly with the goal of triggering a discussion about how we should monitor and assess future changes in order to better inform European environmental policymaking.
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Public Call for Evidence

The approach utilised for this exercise included:

  • A public call for evidence on global megatrends of relevance to Europe’s long-tem environmental The call was launched in June 2009 via the EEA website and was disseminated to relevant research networks and mailing lists. It generated a list of relevant studies that helped further prioritise topics for the analysis.
  • The setting up of an external advisory group to guide the progress of the work. The group comprised representatives of international and national organisations in the field of environmental assessment as well as EEA’s scientific committee members.
  • Reviews of academic and non-academic information sources in the form of eight targeted background reports produced between autumn 2009 and 2010.
  • Consolidation of the information base following the STEEP (social, technological, economic, environmental and political) framework for classifying drivers of change.
  • Structuring of the information base into information sheets including indicators.

The complexity of interlinkages and manifold uncertainties inherent in megatrends require an exploratory, qualitative approach, underpinned by empirical data. It does not solely rely on quantitative modelling although already available model results are used in the analysis. Current approaches to risk analysis and quantitative forecasting are problematic since the systems at hand and their dynamics are not well understood, assumptions are often non-transparent and necessary data are not always available.

The selection of the final list of global megatrends has been determined by matching selection criteria of relevance, novelty, data availability and feasibility within the time frame of the assessment.

The analysis of global megatrends and their relevance to Europe’s long-term environmental context is being carried out as a longer-term and iterative process. The current report captures issues and results relevant to the context and timescale of the state and outlook report 2010. Further work will be undertaken during the next years – and this assessment process intends to provide a solid information base to support policy formulation with a long-term perspective.

Global Megatrends of Relevance to European Environment

Eleven global megatrends were selected to address the European environmental challenges in the area of climate change, nature and biodiversity, natural resources and waste, and health and quality of life.

Increasing Global Divergence in Population Trends: Populations Aging, Growing and Migrating

The global population will continue to grow until the mid of the century but slower than in the past. People will live longer, be more educated and migrate more. Some populations will increase as others shrink. Migration is only one of the unpredictable factors for Europe and the world.

Living in an Urban World:
Spreading Cities and Spiralling Consumption

An increasingly urban world will probably mean higher levels of consumption and greater affluence for many. Yet it also means greater poverty for the urban underprivileged. Poor urban living conditions with the environmental and heath risks this involves can easily spread to other parts of the world, including Europe.

Changing Patterns of Global Disease Burdens and Risk of New Pandemics

Risk of exposure to newly emerging and re-emerging diseases and new pandemics grows with increased mobility of people and goods, climate change and poverty. Aging Europeans could be vulnerable and at risk of being severely affected.

Accelerating Technologies: Racing into the Unknown

The breakneck pace of technological change brings risks and opportunities. These include, in particular, the emerging clusters of nanotechnology, biotechnology and information and communication technology. Innovations offer immense opportunities for the environment – but can also create enormous problems if risks are not regulated adequately.

Continued Economic Growth

High economic growth accelerates consumption and the use of resources, but it also creates economic dynamism that fuels technological innovation potentially offering new approaches for addressing environmental problems and increasing resource efficiency.

Global Power Shifts:
From a Unipolar to a Multipolar World

One superpower no longer holds sway; regional power blocs are increasingly important, economically and diplomatically. As global interdependency and trade expands, so do international and bilateral agreements.  Europe may benefit from this development by improving its resource efficiency and knowledge-based economy.

Intensified Global Competition for Resources

How will Europe survive in the intensifying scramble for scarce resources? The answers may lie in more efficient production and use of resources, new technologies, innovation and increasing cooperation with foreign partners.

Decreasing Stocks of Natural Resources

A larger and richer global population with expanding consumption needs will place growing demands on natural systems for food, water and energy. Europe may see more pressure also on its own natural resources.

Increasing Severity of the Consequences of Climate Change

Accelerating climate change impacts will imperil food and water supplies, impair human health and harm terrestrial and marine life. Europe may see also more human migration, changes in migratory species and heightened pressure on resources availability.

Increasing Environmental Pollution Load

The environment is burdened with an increasingly complex mix of pollutants that threaten the regulatory mechanisms of the earth. Particulates, nitrogen and ground-level ozone merit particular attention in view of their complex and potentially far-reaching effects on ecosystem functioning, climate regulation and human health. In addition, many other chemical substances are released into the environment, the effects of which – whether in isolation or combined – are still poorly understood.

Global Regulation and Governance: Increasing Fragmentation But Converging Outcomes

The world is finding new governance models – multi-lateral agreements and public-private ventures, for example. In the absence of international regulation, advanced European standards and procedures have often been adopted worldwide. But will this situation continue in the future?

Impacts on Europe’s Environment

The analysis of global megatrends shows that they may have a series of direct and indirect consequences for Europe’s environment. These consequences can be illustrated by looking at the four priority areas that underpin the European Union’s Sixth Environmental Action Programme, namely climate change, natural environment, resource use, and environment and health.

The most evident consequences are expected in the area of climate change. A whole set of global socio-economic megatrends will play a key role in determining the severity of climate change impacts in Europe in coming decades. Projected direct impacts in Europe include biodiversity change, particularly in the Arctic region, the Alpine region and the Mediterranean. Water scarcity can become a problem in southern European regions, whereas flooding threatens lowland coastal areas and river basins. Indirectly, Europe may experience increased migration pressures from developing countries, where accelerating global environmental change is becoming more important as a direct root source for migration, and its ageing population may become more vulnerable to extreme events such as heat waves.

For biodiversity and nature, the global megatrends are expected to have a relatively weak direct impact on Europe itself (i.e. spread of invasive species), though globally the loss of biodiversity and indirect impacts on European biodiversity (through use of natural resources and pollution) will be a major concern.

The links between global megatrends and their impacts on Europe’s natural resources are complex and uncertain. Europe is resource-poor in terms of fossil fuels (oil, gas) and minerals (e.g. rare earths, phosphorus, copper, aluminium) and will largely remain dependent on supply from abroad. For energy, Europe may turn to its own stocks (coal, oil shale, ‘revival of mining’), but exploitation costs will be high due to high costs of labour, environmental and occupational security, accessibility and landscape disruption. Changes in the abundance of migratory species and climate change impacts might be aggravated by an increased demand for and depletion of domestic resources (such as food and timber). Similarly, heightened global demand for European agricultural and forestry products may lead to an increase in the intensity and scale of agriculture and forestry in Europe, increasing pressure on water and soil resources. Technology, however, may act to reduce pressure on Europe’s natural resources by enhancing the efficiency of resource use and improving agricultural yields.

In addition to the direct and indirect consequences on Europe’s environment, the megatrends can be expected to also have a global impact on environmental security in many parts of the world, including Europe’s neighbours in the southern and eastern Mediterranean as well as in Sub-Saharan Africa. Examples of such impacts are climate-change-induced refugees, risk of new pandemics and new diseases, conflicts arising from competition for resources, development problems related to uncontrolled urban sprawl.

How Can We Respond to Global Megatrends?

The assessment of megatrends highlights a range of interlinkages and interdependencies. They increase complexity, uncertainty and risk and accelerate feedback within and between economic, social, technological and environmental systems. The growing global links also offer unique opportunities for action although the attempts to realise these opportunities face the challenge of huge time lags between action (or inaction) and effect.

Responding to global megatrends and reflecting future changes in policy is thus a challenging task. The report of the Reflection Group on the Future of Europe has emphasised how many recent global developments, such as the financial crisis or price volatilities in key commodity markets, have caught us by surprise.

A key question emerges: how can we respond to global challenges in resource-using systems when we are very far from understanding them completely? For example, much of the speed and scope of global environmental change has been underestimated by scientific assessments and policy appraisals. Few considered that some of the key emerging economies would develop so fast and affect global demand as quickly as they have in the last decade.

Brief reflection reveals three related but distinct challenges for the future:

  • reviewing assessment approaches to improve monitoring and analysis of future changes and their uncertainties;
  • revising approaches and institutional arrangements to embed a long-term perspective into policy planning and decision-making;
  • reflecting on further policy changes to take better account of global-to-European interlinkages and better align European external policies with environmental policies.
Authors: Teresa Ribeiro              Teresa.Ribeiro@eea.europa.eu

Axel Volkery                 avolkery@ieep.eu

Anita Pirc Velkavrh       Anita.pircvelkavrh@eea.europa.eu

Hans Vos                     hansbvos@gmail.com

Ybele Hoogeveen         Ybele.hoogeveen@eea.europa.eu

Sponsors: n.a.
Type: Regular European state of the environment reporting every four years
Organizer: European Environment Agency
Duration: 2009-2010
Budget: n.a.
Time Horizon: 2050
Date of Brief: August 2012

Download: EFP Brief No. 227_Assessment of Global Megatrends.

Sources and Resources

EEA, 2010a, ‘General support to framing the forward-looking assessment component of the European state of the environment and outlook report 2010 part A — Background Paper on Demographics and Migration’, European Environment Agency, Contract Number 3403/ B2009/EEA.53788 (unpublished).

EEA, 2010b, ‘Background paper on urbanisation and consumption— General support to the forward-looking assessment component of the 2010 European State of the Environment and Outlook Report (Part A)’, European Environment Agency, Copenhagen (unpublished).

EEA, 2010c, ‘Report on health related megatrends — Identifying global health megatrends in support of SOER 2010 Part A’, European Environment Agency Contract No. EEA/AIR/04/007 Specific Agreement 3403/B2009/ EEA.53683, Task 4.

EEA, 2010d, ‘Global megatrends in the area of nano-, bio-, ICT and cognitive sciences and technologies’, European Environment Agency, Copenhagen (unpublished).

EEA, 2010e, Pharmaceuticals in the environment, EEA Technical report No 1/2010, European Environment Agency (http://www.eea.europa. eu/publications/pharmaceuticals-in-the-environment-result-of-an-eea-workshop/at_download/file) accessed 23 November 2010.

EEA, 2010f, The European environment – state and outlook 2010: synthesis, European Environment Agency, Copenhagen.

EFP Brief No. 190: Agriculture and the Challenges of Energy

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Energy in agriculture is all too often seen as a purely cyclical issue whereas it brings more complex challenges in terms of economic stability for agricultural holdings, impacts on the environment and climate, on food supply chains and spatial planning. The present brief describes the main results of a prospective study led by the Centre for Studies and Strategic Foresight (at the French Ministry of Agriculture). A group of experts used the scenario method to imagine possible futures of the agriculture-energy system in 2030 and help identify priorities and options for public action.

Energy at the Heart of French Agriculture

Energy is of major importance for the future of agriculture in France although it receives relatively little analytical attention. Control of energy consumption is an economic issue for agricultural holdings, which consume energy both directly (fuel oil, electricity and natural gas) and indirectly (energy for the manufacture and shipment of farm inputs). All in all, French farming consumes around 11 Mtoe (million tonnes of oil equivalent) a year: 5.3 Mtoe directly and an estimated 5.4 Mtoe indirectly. Taking all French holdings together, expenditure on fuel and lubricants represents 8.3% of intermediate consumption, 13.1% of the costs of fertilisers and 21.6% of livestock feed. The share of energy consumption in production costs varies widely according to the type of production: 23% of intermediate consumption relates to fertilisers and soil improvement for cereal and protein crops; 67% results from feed purchased for granivorous livestock holdings between 2005 and 2008. For an identical output, there are wide variations in energy costs at the farm level depending on production systems and practices. The prices for these inputs may also vary widely, reflecting those of fossil fuels. A high oil price may therefore have major consequences for the economic balance of holdings: the double burden of low farm prices and high energy prices may cause unavoidable and difficult situations. The issue of energy also involves logistics, the organisation of agricultural supply chains and the distribution pattern of farming activities across regions. This is so because the distances separating production areas, consumption areas and sources of input supply are reflected in energy consumption.

Moreover, energy and climate are intertwined issues. Agriculture could contribute to national targets for containing global warming by cutting its emissions, producing renewable energy and sequestering carbon in soil. On the other hand, ambitious climate and environment policies may increase fossil fuel prices.

A Collective and Systemic Approach for the Scenario Method

Since the interaction between agriculture and energy is complex, this subject was addressed using a collective approach based on the scenario method.

The ‘Agriculture Energy 2030’ group involved around forty participants with a wide range of skills and backgrounds from concerned ministries (Agriculture and Fisheries, Sustainable Development), public agencies (ANR, ADEME, FranceAgriMer), technical institutes (CTIFL, IFIP, Institut de l’élevage), the farming world (FNCIVAM, FNCUMA, SAF), research bodies (CEMAGREF, INRA), civil society (FNE) and the private sector (Total, ANIA).

This foresight exercise is centred on agriculture. It leaves out both fisheries and forestry, and the agrifood and retail distribution industries are only marginally considered in the exercise. In addition, climate change is only considered for its direct link with energy, that is, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by direct and indirect energy consumption and renewable energy production. Issues relating to biomaterial and bioproduct production have also been considered in the core analysis. Finally, the analysis restricts itself to mainland France because the French overseas territories have very specific agricultural and energy features of their own.

The choice of time frame to 2030 is a trade-off between the desire to capture cyclical effects and the necessity of working with a manageable, not too distant time scale. Within this basic framework, the Agriculture Energy 2030 group identified five components made up of 33 variables relevant to explaining the possible futures of the agriculture-energy system.

A study card was created for each variable to set a number of hypotheses as to its future development. This exploratory work was based on the identification of past trends, emerging trends and the main areas of uncertainty to be considered when looking forward into the future. Proceeding very conventionally, these hypotheses were combined for each component to produce micro-scenarios, which were then combined to generate global scenarios. For greater consistency and to cast a more informative light on the issues surrounding agriculture and energy, the global scenarios were quantified using a model (Climagri) to estimate French farming production, energy consumption and GHG emissions by 2030. These scenarios are not predictions of the future and reflect even less the preferences of the expert group or the French Ministry of Agriculture. They were used as conjectures to alert actors and decision-makers.

A Set of Four Scenarios to Highlight Energy Challenges in Agriculture

Scenario 1: Regionalisation and frugality to confront the crisis

A profound energy crisis undermines conventional business models. The international context is tense and focused on protection of domestic markets. Around 2020, the management of public policies is entrusted to a greater extent to regional authorities, which are seen to be closer to the development issues of their territories. By 2030, the agricultural world has changed profoundly and faces a number of external constraints: energy prices at sustained high levels, a budget crisis and loss of legitimacy of the central government, a withdrawal to home regions and a contraction in international trade. Agriculture adapts as a matter of urgency, employing a strategy focused on the local level, accompanied by major institutional reform.

The growing self-sufficiency of production systems inevitably involves input reduction, more extensive livestock farming and diversification. The search for complementarity between crops and livestock or between types of crops across holdings and regions becomes a general reality. By 2030, this transformation is not harmonised across the French territory and there are major regional disparities. Lower levels of specialisation and production lead to a limited export capacity. French farming makes major cuts in its energy consumption (down by 32%). Renewable energy produced on the farm supplies additional income, but its development depends on local potential and dynamics. Extensive use is made of biomethanation and wood-for-energy, but expansion of biofuels is held back by high agricultural prices.

Scenario 2: Twin-track agriculture and energy realism

Against a backdrop of high energy price volatility and further trade liberalisation, public support for agriculture declines with a refocusing on remuneration for the public goods provided by agriculture. These changes have very different impacts on holdings depending on whether or not they meet local demand for the local supply and provision of public amenities. Two forms of agriculture exist side by side in 2030:

– “Business Farming” (mainly on the plains of the Northern , Western and Central France): these farms manage to be competitive and to position themselves on export markets. Intensification and restructuring result in a high-precision, high-input farming system. Energy use is optimised on these farms as a response to economic drivers. Energy optimisation is benefited by private-sector market supply of technology and counselling services.

– “Multifunctional agriculture”: these farms diversify their activity and are remunerated for the environmental services they provide (water, biodiversity, landscape, carbon storage). Their main activities are extensive livestock, organic and mixed crop-livestock farming. Such holdings adopt strategies focused on self-sufficiency and low energy use close to those in Scenario 1.

Overall, there is little change in energy consumption. Renewable energy production expands moderately, with investments being held back by price volatility. Biofuel production is more strongly developed in integrated and innovative industrial sectors.

Scenario 3: Health-centred agriculture with no major energy constraints

In 2030, urban consumers are more numerous and more influential. With the backing of the large retail chains, they have succeeded in imposing a major reduction in the use of pesticides by agriculture on grounds of the protection of human health rather than protection of the environment. In the absence of major energy constraints and strong environmental policies, urban sprawl continues to expand. Agricultural supply chains are shaped by their downstream components, with quality schemes and mandatory specifications becoming highly prescriptive with regard to reduced pesticide use. Producers adjust more or less. Some sectors are negatively affected by this new constraint. The most isolated rural regions experience significant abandonment of agriculture. Conversely, the major cities invest in periurban farming to meet the demand for open spaces and local food supply. A specialised and technically sophisticated agricultural model involving integrated pest management has developed. It aims at high production levels and at abating pesticide use at the same time. In parallel, organic farming develops significantly. The absence of any major constraint in terms of policy or energy pricing results in a slight fall in overall energy consumption since production inputs are partially substituted by efficiency gains in machinery. The production of biofuels expands strongly, driven by the early arrival of second generation technologies.

Scenario 4: Ecological agriculture and energy savings

Approaching 2015, the need to make sharp reductions in the environmental impact of human activity leads to a consensus both in the developed world and slowly in the emerging countries. European households adapt their consumption patterns out of concern for preservation of the environment and in response to prices that now include the environmental cost of products. The implementation in 2016 of a common EU-US CO2 market with border adjustment mechanisms triggers a massive shift towards ecological modernisation. In this context, agriculture evolves toward new production models with smaller environmental impacts; the trend is supported by a reformed agricultural policy. This change, however, is both difficult and gradual. The initial resistance of the farming world delays the behavioural changes. Major mutations in the whole agri-food system are also required. From 2020 on, French agriculture becomes ‘ecologically intensive’ on the wide cereal-growing plains of the country: for example, crop diversification, general use of nitrogen-fixing crops at the beginning of rotation sequences and no-tillage become common. In hilly and mountainous lands, farmers are paid for environmental services and are encouraged to meet self-sufficiency at the farm (diversified systems based on mixed crop-livestock farming) or across whole regions (complementarity between farms). Biomethanation and renewable energy production are strongly developed.

Future Requirements for Policy

The expert group sketched out ‘come what may’ strategies that can be expected to remain valid in any future context. The use of fertilisers is a core element of energy balance, and the technical means for reducing nitrogen inputs are well known (long crop rotation sequences and diversified crop choices, use of green manure, organic sources of nitrogen and so on). Their general adoption requires awareness-raising and educational efforts directed at the farmers along with networking to support farmers in exchanging experiences. The need for changes may call for the use of strong normative or economic instruments.

The Agriculture Energy 2030 group has highlighted the advantages of biomethanation, on condition that the digestates are correctly recycled. The structuring and development of the relevant sector supply chains are major issues. Digestate centrifugation is one of the most promising avenues because it allows an easily transported solid phase rich in nutrients (ammonia, phosphate, potassium) to be isolated, along with a liquid phase that is rich in nitrogen but which must be used in nearby areas (spreading). Official approval for the products obtained in this way could provide a major boost.

Another advantage of biomethanation is the production of renewable energy (electricity and heat). The existing support schemes for the installation of digesters on farms should be accompanied by biogas purchase prices to offer greater incentives and forward visibility to investors.

Preference for local supply of protein for animal feed was seen as an advantageous strategy. The goal is to reduce the transportation of these inputs through on-farm production or local supply and to give preference to protein sources requiring low levels of inputs for their production. Grass-based livestock farming particularly deserves to be encouraged given its self-sufficiency and the numerous amenities it provides. Strategies aimed at expanding the use of grass in livestock farming and introducing legumes into pastures are of interest and should receive appropriate technical assistance.

Agricultural machinery constitutes a major area for fuel savings and a lever for change, which could be easily used. Investment in proper adjustment and maintenance of tractors, replacement of machinery and reductions in engine power should receive financial support while giving priority to pooled uses. Elimination of the need to till the soil (notably by means of zero-tillage) could be explored for the reduction of fuel consumption. Extensive effort on training and research is, however, required.

Innovation in the organisation of the agricultural sector to improve energy balances across production regions is needed. The group recommends that production systems should be diversified and products traded between holdings. Support would be appropriate for farmers committing to innovative modes of production (e.g., crop-livestock complementarity, organic farming, high environmental value) through proactive policies on land and installations, especially in the most specialised regions. In addition, the provision of technical and financial support for the development of on-farm primary processing of water-rich products could help reduce transport-related energy consumption while at the same time diversifying farmers’ income sources.

There is nevertheless a need to study case by case the energy efficiency and economic viability of this kind of development, which requires major investments and increases farm workload. The development of on-farm storage facilities and conservation technologies helps reduce wastage and thus provides another tool for action. Lastly, there are avenues to be explored for the improvement of the energy performance of short supply chains: delivery pooling, modal transfer, avoidance of empty return trips and so on.

  • The development of renewable energy production must be supported and channelled. Renewable energy, other than biomass can provide additional income, depending on farmers’ investment capacity and local potential. Moderate purchase prices should help avoid excessive speculation and the risk of unbridled development of installations on agricultural land. Where biofuels are concerned, public support should favour the most competitive and best environmentally performing sectors. Such targeting of support would help ensure that budget leeway can be found to increase R&D efforts and assist investment in second-generation technologies. Support of this kind should be made conditional on compliance with demanding sustainability criteria. The rising importance of ligno-cellulosic biofuels will also require sustainable management and the mobilisation of large quantities of biomass. Farm fuel taxation might also be revised in order to offer greater incentives for fuel economy.
  • Reduction of the energy consumption of buildings is a necessity for the high direct energy consuming sectors. Large-scale investment should, for instance, be provided for the modification and effective insulation of buildings, the installation of heat economisers or biomass boilers and for lighting optimisation. Financial support in the form of grants or loans could be provided on condition of complying with thermal standards for buildings. A wide-ranging scheme could be implemented along the same lines as the PMPOA (French programme for the control of pollution of agricultural origin). Lastly, priorities for agronomic research and the dissemination of innovation in agriculture were highlighted. Indeed, considerable uncertainty remains and more knowledge should be gained on indirect energy consumption (especially for animal feedstuffs), end-to-end energy balances in agricultural supply chains, the logistics of agricultural and food products and the energy content of those logistics. In particular, current work on the development of short marketing chains for agricultural products should not neglect this aspect. Generally speaking, comparisons of the energy balances of different agricultural holdings must be continued and improved to help understand discrepan-cies in levels of consumption and energy efficiency in different production systems.

Varietal improvement should focus on the development of high-yield protein crops and less nitrogen-dependant cereals and oilseeds. Alongside this, research into production systems should address low-energy systems (e.g., integrated production, grass-based systems) and alternatives to tillage. Support for organic farming should go hand in hand with research into increased yields and methods for reducing direct energy consumption.

Innovation transfer is the keystone of any successful strategy. Governance of R&D should be broadened, for example, by involving practitioners in the R&D organisations. Developing a network of experimental farms is also essential for the definition and transfer of innovative techniques and technical benchmarks. Lastly, several factors are holding back useful initiatives to sustainably improve the energy efficiency of agricultural holdings and supply chains: energy price volatility, low taxation on energy products in agriculture and lack of knowledge. Efforts to communicate, raise awareness and provide training must accompany any action.

Authors: Thuriane Mahé                               thuriane.mahe@agriculture.gouv.fr

Julien Vert                                      julien.vert@agriculture.gouv.fr

Fabienne Portet                              fabienne.portet@agriculture.gouv.fr

Sponsors: Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries, Rural Affairs and Spatial Planning
Type: National foresight exercise
Organizer: Centre for Studies and Strategic Foresight (CEP)
Duration: Jun 09-Dec10 Budget: N/A Time Horizon: 2030 Date of Brief: July 2011

 

Download EFP Brief No 190_Agriculture and Energy_2030

Sources and References

Vert J., Portet F., (coord.), Prospective Agriculture Énergie 2030. L’agriculture face aux défis énergétiques, Centre d’Études et de Prospective, SSP, Ministère de l’Agriculture, de l’Alimentation, de la Pêche, de la Ruralité et de l’Aménagement du Territoire, 2010 (in French).

Prospective analysis Agriculture Energy 2030 (in English), see http://agriculture.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/CEP_Agriculture_Energy_2030_Synthesis_English.pdf.

For further information on this project, see http://agriculture.gouv.fr/agriculture-energie-2030,1440.