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EU’s green and digital transitions ‘cannot succeed without R&D’

Bloc’s transition goals need significant investment in research across disciplines, says university group paper

Long-term fundamental research is “crucial” to the EU’s green and digital transitions, according to a new paper published by the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has put environmental sustainability and digitisation at the top of the EU’s political agenda, with the idea that the two reinforce each other and are therefore a ‘twin transition’.

The main policy drivers behind the two transitions are the European Green Deal, with its aim to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, and the EU’s Digital Strategy to strengthen digital sovereignty and set standards in the area.

The Guild paper, published on 21 September and authored by Morten Dæhlen, a professor at the University of Oslo, warns that the twin transition will fail “without significant investment in research across disciplines”.

Need for interconnections

The paper calls on policymakers to “recognise that long-term fundamental research—both disciplinary within the digital domain and interdisciplinary where digital research plays an important role—is of crucial importance for a successful twin transition”.

It warns that policy discussions on the transitions “lack…a more careful articulation of how these challenges relate to each other”.

“Even though the European Green Deal emphasises the importance of digital research and innovation for the green transition of society, the digital transition is still underestimated as a driving force for realising the green transition,” Dæhlen says. “I hope this report will help change that.”

The paper calls for policies on the green and digital transition to be “connected”. This could entail having a governance model with “a single research strategy on the twin transition instead of merely coordinated distinct strategies dedicated each to the green and digital transitions”, Dæhlen says.

He also calls on funders to make sure their programmes that “currently focus on addressing environmental sustainability or digital research should additionally focus more on the linkages between the two”.