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date: 26 February 2024

The Genesis and Evolution of European Union Framework Programmes on Climate Sciencefree

The Genesis and Evolution of European Union Framework Programmes on Climate Sciencefree

  • Elisabeth LipiatouElisabeth LipiatouEuropean Commission, Directorate General Communications Networks, Content & Technology
  •  and Anastasios KentarchosAnastasios KentarchosEuropean Commission, Directorate General Research and Innovation


Although the first European Union Framework Programme (FP) for research and technological development was created in 1984, it was the second FP (FP2) in 1987 that devoted resources to climatological research for the first time. The start of FP2 coincided with the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1988, aimed at providing a comprehensive assessment on the state of knowledge of the science of climate change.

FP-funded research was not an end in itself but a means for the European Union (EU) to achieve common objectives based on the principle of cross-border research cooperation and coordination to reduce fragmentation and effectively tackle common challenges.

Since 1987, climate science has been present in all nine FPs (as of 2023) following an evolutionary process as goals, priority areas, and financial and implementation instruments have constantly changed to adapt to new needs. A research- and technology-oriented Europe was gradually created including in the area of climate science.

There has historically been a strong intrinsic link between research and environmental and climate policies. Climate science under the FPs, focusing initially on oceans, the carbon cycle, and atmospheric processes, has increased tremendously both in scope and scale, encompassing a broad range of areas over time, such as climate modeling, polar research, ocean acidification, regional seas and oceans, impacts and adaptation, decarbonization pathways, socioeconomic analyses, sustainability, observations, and climate services.

The creation and evolution of the EU’s FPs has played a critical role in establishing Europe’s leading position on climate science by means of promoting excellence, increasing the relevance of climate research for policymaking, and building long-lasting communities and platforms across Europe and beyond as international cooperation has been a key feature of the FPs. No other group of countries collaborates on climate science at such scale. Due to their inherited long-term planning and cross-national nature, the FPs have provided a stable framework for advancing climate science by incentivizing scientists and institutions with diverse expertise to work together, creating the necessary critical mass to tackle the increasing complex and interdisciplinary nature of climate science, rationalizing resource allocation, and setting norms and standards for scientific collaboration. It is hard to imagine in retrospect how a similar level of impact could have been achieved solely at a national level.

Looking ahead and capitalizing on the rich experience and lessons learned since the 1980s, important challenges and opportunities need to be addressed. These include critical gaps in knowledge, even higher integration of disciplines, use of new technologies and artificial intelligence for state-of-the-art data analysis and modeling, capturing interlinkages with sustainable development goals, better coordination between national and EU agendas, higher mobility of researchers and ideas from across Europe and beyond, and stronger interactions between scientists and nonscientific entities (public authorities, the private sector, financial institutions, and civil society) in order to better communicate climate science and proactively translate new knowledge into actionable plans.


  • Climate Systems and Climate Dynamics
  • Modeling
  • History of Climate Science
  • Policy, Politics, and Governance
  • Climate Impact: Marine Ecosystems
  • Development and Sustainability

Author Note

The views expressed here are solely those of the authors and do not represent the views of the European Commission.


The post-Second World War reconstruction of Europe and actions leading to increasing European integration has been mainly interpreted and analyzed through economic and political lenses. To that end, efforts and achievements in other areas, such as those in science and technology, have often assumed a secondary and undervalued role (Guzzetti, 1995).

The Single European Act (which enshrined research policy in the European Economic Community treaty in 1986) and the birth of the Framework Programmes (FPs) for research and technological development in the mid-1980s (based on the subsidiarity principle and promoting cross-border research) marked a turning point for science, research, and technological development policy at the European level. FPs allowed for longer-term planning in terms of both priorities and financial resources and for providing a mechanism for coherent and strategic research policies.

Climate science has been a major beneficiary of, and contributor to, these developments mainly due to the convergence of two important drivers.1 On one hand, the emergence of climate science has been a distinct and growing field of research in mid-1970s/early 1980s with its importance in understanding and tackling climate change. On the other hand, there has been a need to find the means and tools to address the scale and complexity of climate science and to provide efficient ways in managing the highly fragmented financial, human, and knowledge capital across EU member states.

From the very early FPs (as of 2023, there are nine), there has been a strong, intrinsic link between research and environmental policies and cross-border collaboration. This was encapsulated in a speech by European Commission President Jacques Delors in 1989 (Delors & Odile, 1992), in which he said:

No environmental policy not even the most fundamentalist or the most antithetical to productive values, can do without the tool of science and technology . . . we have crucial need for this tool if we are to be able to make assessments, formulate models, foresee the evolution of damage . . . and to recall the research efforts that have to be made to this end will only make sense with a framework of broad international cooperation, for this will serve as a guarantee of rational and verifiable scientific assessment. (p. 10)

Despite the rich diversity of interests and political realities across EU member states and the complex interinstitutional processes, FPs have become the beacon for cross-border collaboration at an unprecedented scale. They have been instrumental in advancing science on critical aspects of climate science by creating a stable framework of cooperation; promoting long-lasting communities and platforms across borders; stimulating excellence and interdisciplinarity; optimizing the use of Europe’s scientific potential, infrastructures, and resources; and gradually linking the process of knowledge creation to the process of knowledge use. Climate science under the FPs, focusing initially on oceans, the carbon cycle, and atmospheric processes, has increased tremendously since the 1980s, both in scale and scope, encompassing a broad range of (interconnected) themes such climate modeling, polar research, extreme events, ocean acidification, climate attribution, impacts and adaptation, decarbonization pathways, socioeconomic analyses, observations, and climate services. It is difficult to imagine how the same level of advancements, efficiency, and impact could have been achieved without research policies and programs at the EU level.

As humanity enters into the most critical decade in terms of impactful climate action, and the need for international cooperation around global challenges in a highly interconnected world will only increase, the successes, lessons learned, and remaining challenges stemming from the biggest international program of climate science may be of high relevance to policymakers in Europe and worldwide.

The Historic Perspective

The Birth of the European Union Framework Programme for Research, Science, and Technology: The Largest cross-border Public Funding Scheme Worldwide

While 1952 started the great adventure of European Community common projects with coal and steel as the front runner, it took until 1958 for the first common science and research project on nuclear research for peace (Euratom)2 to be created. It took thereafter until 1982 for the first “beyond nuclear” common research program3 to be created, planting the seeds for the future European Framework Programme (FP) for research and technological development. FP-funded research was not an end in itself but a means for the European Union to meet common objectives (Communication, 1996).

FP1 (1984–1988) and FP2 (1987–1991)

Understanding the Climate System

The genesis of European Community FP1 was in 1984 but it was the second FP (FP2) in 1987, with a total budget of 5.5 billion ECU,4 that devoted a budget of 285–320 million ECU to environmental protection for the first time,5 including climatological research.

The start of FP2 coincided with the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), endorsed by the United Nations (UN) in 1988 with the aim of preparing a comprehensive review on the state of knowledge on the science of climate change. Its First Assessment Report prepared in 1990 underlined the importance of climate change as a challenge with global consequences requiring international cooperation.

FP2 highlighted the importance of the ocean in the functioning of climate and its capacity to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, which may determine whether man will eventually cause an irreversible and unfavorable modification of the climate.

FP2 goals included a thorough understanding of the climate system, the development of techniques for climate forecasting, and the assessment of the ecological and societal consequences of any climate change likely to occur in the 21st century because of the warming induced by the atmospheric CO2 increase due to fossil fuel burning.

FP3 (1990–1994)

Large Interdisciplinary Projects, Global Change Models, and Climate Impacts

The third FP (FP3) with a budget of 6.6 billion ECU had the objective of using science and technology to help the competitiveness of European industry. FP3 was the first FP that had a full-fledged program devoted to the environment with climate research having a specific budget of 90–116 million ECU. It also targeted areas where the approach at the European level was clearly indispensable to advance scientific knowledge and influence Europe’s environmental policy. The environmental policy was based on the concept of sustainable development and had as priorities to preserve, protect, and improve the quality of the environment.

Important novelties of FP3 included the prioritization of large scale, interdisciplinary projects and the emphasis on international cooperation both within and outside Europe. In this context, the dominant part of the Environment Programme of FP3 was devoted to global change (Contzen & Ghazi, 1994). Global change had a larger scope than climate change. It described major alterations to Earth, including alterations in climate, land productivity, oceans or other water resources, atmospheric chemistry, and ecological systems.

Accordingly, FP3 goals were to investigate natural climate change by studying past climate cycles and anthropogenic climate change in order to provide the scientific basis for preventive and adaptive measures. For this purpose, FP3 supported projects on integrated high-resolution global change models coupling the atmosphere, ocean, biosphere, and cryosphere. FP3 also investigated climate change impacts in Europe.

During FP3, the European Communities demonstrated its determination to help mitigate climate change by signing (in 1992) and ratifying (in 1993) the UN Convention on Climate Change with the pledge of stabilizing CO2 emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000. During this FP, as an outcome of the Second World Climate Conference, the Global Ocean Observing System program was created in 1990 by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (ICO) of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) followed by the Global Climate Observing System in 1992 to ensure that observations and information needed to address climate issues were obtained and made available to the users.

Other important focus areas of the FP3 were stratospheric ozone depletion (using extensive Arctic campaigns and modeling), tropospheric physics and chemistry, ecosystems dynamics, and disturbances in biogeochemical cycles. Emphasis was also given to European coastal areas and to regional sea projects such as the Mediterranean (Mediterranean Targeted Project [MTP]) and the North-East Atlantic Ocean (Ocean Margin Exchange [OMEX] Project).

FP3 contributed to several international projects and experiments such as the International Geosphere Biosphere Programme (IGBP), the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), and the Joint Global Ocean Flux Study (JGOFS). Furthermore, through specific mechanisms for international scientific cooperation, it allowed for financial support to countries outside the European Union.

At that time, it was already evident that the FPs had influenced the way research was organized in Europe. The FPs, and especially FP3, helped to “establish the habit” for European scientific and technological organizations to work together and create long-lasting links between research institutions and scientists. A “research and technology Europe” was gradually being created, including in the area of global and climate change (Ruberti & Andre, 1995).

FP4 (1994–1998)

Coordination of European Research, Earth Observation, and International Cooperation

FP4 advanced further climate science and evolved from cooperation in European research—by now well accepted and acknowledged—to the coordination of European research in what was happening at national and EU levels (Ruberti & Andre, 1995). This FP, with 12.3 billion ECU, had the vision to go further, to what was called “research without borders” inside and outside Europe by means of strong international cooperation activities.

FP4 included an Environment and Climate Programme, aiming to assist the implementation of Fifth Environment Action Programme policies and actions related to the environment and sustainability. With sustainability as a key priority, FP4 linked research on environmental protection with social economic factors responsible for environmental change and its impacts.

In this context, FP4 identified natural environment and global change with a budget of 250 million ECU as one of its foci within the Environment and Climate Programme. It focused on climate change impacts on natural resources, atmospherics physics and chemistry, biospheric processes, and consequences of their alteration. This Programme was complemented by the Marine Sciences and Technologies Programme (MAST) with a budget of 240million ECU, which supported marine sciences and technologies research related to climate and global change. FP4 also emphasized earth observations and the exploitation of earth observation data to support research on global change and established, jointly with the European Space Agency (ESA), the Centre for Earth Observation. FP4 also provided a major EU research contribution to the worldwide efforts for understanding global environmental change.

During the duration of FP4, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) entered into force (in 1995) and the Second Assessment Report of the IPCC was released the same year. In June 1996, the European Council of Environment Ministers—taking into account the IPCC conclusions—declared that the global average temperature should not exceed two degrees above preindustrial times. In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to below 5.2% of the 1990 levels.

In that international context, FP4 supported many projects and actions in the area of global change and climate and provided important support to IGBP and WCRP. As at the EU level, there was no common line for international cooperation on research and innovation, FP4 supported the coordination of EU efforts and programs for international research programs on global change and financed programs to fund non-EU scientists. It established the European Network of Research of Global Change (ENRICH) to gather global climate change data (Contzen & Ghazi, 1994). ENRICH promoted cooperation with African and Mediterranean countries, as well as the Eastern European non-EU countries. Under FP4, the EU–U.S. cooperation in global system science was strengthened.

Overall, FP4 established a European space for researchers, strengthened European research cooperation, and had an important impact on European research coordination within and outside Europe.

FP5 (1998–2002)

Links to European Industry, Sustainability, Polar Research, Mitigation, and Adaptation to Climate Change

FP5 marked a game change on the overall thinking and organizing research priorities. Research under FP5 was designed to be more efficient than previous FPs and was directed toward basic social and economic needs and concerns of European society, such as the improvement of quality of life and an increase in industrial competitiveness including Europe’s record on innovation. With a total budget of €14 billion, FP5 departed from the focus of the previous four FPs on precompetitive research and became a true partner for European industry.6

The process, starting at the 1992 Rio Summit (leading to the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development) and the 2001 Göteborg European Council (delivering a European strategy for sustainable development), influenced FP5. In Europe, in terms of economic and social objectives, sustainable development emerged as a key goal. This led to highly interdisciplinary research, which also included the in-depth study of global environmental change.

FP5 focused on a limited number of research areas combining technological, industrial, economic, social, and cultural aspects. One of these areas was “energy, environment, and sustainable development” with a budget of €1,044 million. Within this priority, two important key actions were included: “global change, climate, and biodiversity,” and “sustainable marine ecosystems.” Strong international cooperation was a key feature of FP5. During FP5 the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security initiative started up in Baveno, which aimed to support Europe’s goals on sustainable development and global governance.

The main goal of the “global change, climate, and biodiversity” key action was to contribute environmental policies and international commitments of the EU through an integrated approach to sustainable development with the following priorities: (a) to understand, detect, assess, and predict global change processes such as atmospheric composition, ozone depletion, climate, sea level rise, ocean processes, and the link between climate and extreme events; (b) to better understand ecosystems including the role of climate change and biodiversity; (c) to develop scenarios for mitigation and adaptation to the effects of global change, climate change, and loss of biodiversity; and (d) to support the development of the European component of the global observation systems for climate and oceans including the cryosphere.

FP5 financed hundreds of projects on climate-related research, contributing to important scientific advancements on climate modeling; paleoclimate research; climate monitoring and prediction; integrated earth system modeling; the role of the ocean in climate change and the global carbon cycle; climate change impacts on European regions (including the Arctic, subarctic, and Greenland); atmospheric processes related to global and climate change; coupling atmosphere and ocean, stratospheric ozone; the functioning of terrestrial ecosystems; and links between climate science and policy.

FP6 (2002–2006)

Focusing on Global Change and Sustainable Management of Ecosystems

FP6, with a total budget of €16.3 billion, had a structuring effect on research and technological development in Europe and made a significant contribution to the establishment of a European Research Area (ERA) and to innovation. Building upon Article 6 of the Treaty of Nice, the Göteborg European Council of June 2001 agreed on a strategy for sustainable development and added an environmental dimension to the Lisbon strategy. As a result, “sustainable development, global change, and ecosystems” became one of the seven thematic priorities of FP6 (with a €2.120 million budget). Emphasis on climate science was given to the sustainable management of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, the water cycle, mechanisms and impacts of greenhouse gas emissions (including terrestrial and oceanic carbon sinks), ozone depletion, modeling and forecasting, and climate change observation systems.

It is interesting to note that there is no explicit reference to the IPCC nor to the “2°C” global temperature target,7 despite the fact that the European Council of Environment Ministers, taking into account the Second Assessment Report of the IPCC, declared already in 19968 that

given the serious risk of such an increase and particularly the very high rate of change, the Council believes that global average temperature should not exceed two degrees above pre-industrial times and therefore concentration levels lower than 550 ppm CO2 should guide global limitation and reduction efforts.

In contrast, the colegislators provided a clear reference to the Kyoto Protocol, setting the policy context on climate action.9 Still, FP6 started in the midst of international political uncertainty regarding climate change after [then] U.S. President George W. Bush abandoned efforts to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Despite the absence of an explicit reference to the IPCC in the legal text of FP6, the IPCC Third Assessment Report (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2001) provided important input to the development of FP6 work programs, in particular its conclusions around key uncertainties and knowledge gaps in areas such as the carbon cycle and related climate feedback, regional changes and impacts of climate change, costs of adaptation and mitigation, and the detection and attribution of climate change.

The implementation of FP6 on climate science delivered an extensive portfolio of projects in the areas of carbon and nitrogen cycles; stratospheric ozone and climate dynamics; atmospheric composition (building upon research roadmaps, preparatory actions, and networks created in FP5); and climate dynamics and variability (including paleoclimatology and Arctic research). It also supported new research actions in areas such as ensembles-based climate predictions at regional and global levels, climate impacts on the water cycle, resources and quality (EC Report, 2006a), impacts of future climate, and analysis of adaptation and mitigation pathways. Recognizing science as a “global public good,” and given the inherited international dimension of FPs, important research activities were carried out beyond Europe in sensitive and critical ecosystems such as the Amazon forest and African terrestrial ecosystems, in close collaboration with national partners.

The ex-post impact assessment of the FP6 subpriority “Global Change and Ecosystems” (EC Study, 2009), carried out by independent experts, highlighted that climate change is the area that “receives the highest ranking in terms of impacts, especially as regards scientific impacts” and the analyzed projects in the area of climate change “are unanimously qualified as being of high scientific quality, producing excellent science”. The report found that bigger funding schemes (Networks of Excellence and Integrated Projects) built around a significant number (usually more than 20) of research institutions and universities from several member states, associated countries, and third countries were able to reach necessary levels of interdisciplinarity and had a profound structuring effect toward an ERA. This was due to their critical mass, economies of scale and scope, diversity of expertise, and deeper integration of European research communities.

Efforts to link science and policy in FP6 through the dissemination of results and interaction with policymakers and other stakeholders increased, but these actions had been rather ad hoc and did not cover all areas of climate research. To that end, the ex-post impacts assessment of the FP6 recommended that available resources for dissemination should be augmented and dedicated to specific dissemination actions.

The International Symposium on Climate Change and Impacts, Ozone Depletion, Observations and Natural Hazards held in Brussels in February 2006 provided a consolidated overview of the latest European research achievements and highlighted outstanding research questions. Its report (EC Report, 2006b) became one of the strategic documents contributing to the development of the subsequent (seventh) FP.

FP7 (2007–2013)

Aligning Climate Science With the Broader Policy Framework

FP7, with a total budget of €50.5 billion and for the first time a 7-year duration, had the overriding aim to “contribute to the Union becoming the world’s leader research area,” and to that end was “strongly focused on promoting and investing in world-class state of the art research based primarily upon the principle of excellence in research.”10 Central to the design of FP7 was the importance placed on knowledge, research, and technological development as a means to achieve social and environmental well-being, expressed by the European Parliament in its resolution of March 10, 2005 on science and technology11. FP7’s key institutional novelty was the establishment of the European Research Council (ERC), which focuses on bottom-up high-level frontier research at the European level, while on the implementation side, there was a clear trend toward a more extensive use of smaller funding schemes allowing for more flexibility and management autonomy to grantees.

The ERC, designed to support investigator-driven frontier research across all fields, provided an important platform for advancing climate science. Numerous ERC grants focused on climate science issues including global scale glacier dynamics, novel approaches to paleoclimate reconstructions, sensitivity of carbon sinks to climate fluctuations, aerosol-cloud-climate dynamics, the role of African rainforests on greenhouse gas balance, de-biasing uncertainties of climate stabilization pathways, and transforming financial systems to support net-zero economies. By challenging scientists to identify and investigate new directions, concepts, and methods without being constrained by policy priorities (the only criterion was scientific excellence), the ERC filled an important gap in the scientific value chain and helped in strengthening and shaping the European research system.

Following the adoption of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (2007–2008), the European Commission organized in Brussels the International Symposium on Future Climate, Impacts and Responses—The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report and EC Integrated Climate Research. Key figures from the IPCC were invited to present and discuss with policymakers the key results from the report: the current state-of-the-art on climate change research and the knowledge gaps that needed to be addressed. As result, a Staff Working Document was published, highlighting the future directions for climate science (EC Staff Working Document, 2008). The document played an important role in framing and guiding the design and development of work programs under FP7, highlighting also the need to increase research efforts in less developed areas of research, such as interactions between climate change and water resources, impacts on human health, and the development of low-end scenarios able to limit global temperature levels below 2°C.

In FP7, climate change took a more prominent role compared to previous FPs; it was now mentioned explicitly by the colegislators (Article 29 of Decision 1982/2006/EC) as a key expected contribution together with growth, sustainable development, and environmental protection. Climate science is mainly pursued under the “Environment (including Climate Change)” activity of the of the part addressing cooperative research. Based on the rationale that environmental problems extend beyond national frontiers and require a coordinated approach, the need for EU intervention and benefit is clear. Links and explicit references to important policy frameworks (e.g. the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol, and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity) and the IPCC underlined the link and expected contribution of climate science to policy. The activity’s budget was €1.890 million and incorporated three main areas: (a) climate change, pollution, and risks, (b) sustainable management of resources, and (c) environmental technologies.

In 2009 in the middle of FP7 implementation, a publication presenting the contribution of the FP to the Third World Climate Conference and the UNFCC COP-15 identified 134 projects with research activities on climate for an overall budget of €543 million (EC Report, 2009a) .

International cooperation has been another important outcome of FP7 implementation. Research institutions from non-European countries represented approximately 9.5% of the total number of project partners, while financial contributions to these entities accounted for 14% of total spending. Key participating countries included India, Japan, China, Brazil, Russia, the United States, Canada, and South Africa. On certain occasions, research priorities were identified in a cocreation mode through the direct involvement of the respective scientific communities in the form of joint strategic workshops and subsequent discussions at the institutional level. For example, following recommendations from the EU–India Science and Technology Strategic Workshop on Climate Change Research Needs (New Delhi, February 8, 2007), a specific international cooperation action (called HIGHNOON) brought together European and Indian institutions with the aim of assessing the impact of Himalayan glacier retreat and possible changes of the Indian summer monsoon on the spatial and temporal distribution of water resources in Northern India and to provide recommendations for appropriate and efficient response strategies.12 The implementation of FP7 delivered a wide range of research projects consolidating further strong cross-border collaborations between climate science institutions and teams across Europe and beyond, building upon research roadmaps and networks established by previous programs (EC Report, 2013). The vast majority of climate science projects (around 220) funded under FP7 fell under the following six thematic areas: (a) climate observation, processes, and projections; (b) carbon and nitrogen cycles; (c) atmospheric pollution and climate interactions; (d) climate change impacts; (e) climate-related hazards and extreme events; and (f) adaptation, mitigation, and relevant policies.

The ex-post evaluation of FP7 for the Cooperation program theme “Environment (including Climate Change),” carried out by external experts, highlighted the importance and positive impact of FP7 on climate science in Europe and its contribution to the IPCC (EC Study, 2014). Climate change was the priority area with the best performance in scientific outcome. The maturity of the scientific community was indicated as key factor of success. The key element of maturity lies in the integration of scientific excellence with societal relevance in lasting interdisciplinary networks of global relevance. Certain areas were identified as having a particularly high impact in terms of creating a true ERA and producing excellent policy-relevant research. For example, in areas such as climate modeling, FP7 allowed an international co-development of climate models, creating a process of mutual learning and efficient knowledge creation contributing to the creation of international standards that avoid fragmentation of research funding.

It is important to highlight that in 2011 the operation phase of the Global Monitoring for Environmental Security started, which in 2012 was renamed Copernicus. This ambitious observational program was originally initiated from a proposal of a group of experts in 1998 (Baveno Manifesto) urging the EU to play a major role in handling worldwide environmental and climate issues. Following several design and development phases, Copernicus today (as of 2023) serves millions of users with access to its data and supports the EU; national, regional, and local governments and industry; scientists; and emergency managers through a wide array of products, services, and climate change monitoring.

FP8: H2020 (2014–2020)

The 2°C Target, Planetary Boundaries, and the Rise of User-Centric Science

Horizon2020 (H2020), the eighth FP, had a budget of €77 billion and was established in 2013.13 H2020 reflected the Union’s commitment to achieve the Europe 2020 strategy, which set the objectives of smart, sustainable, and inclusive growth, highlighting the role of research and innovation as key drivers for social and economic prosperity and environmental sustainability.

Under H2020, climate change remained a key priority and together with resource efficiency these were seen as mutually reinforcing objectives for achieving sustainable development. For the first time in the history of the FPs, a target for budget allocation on climate-related activities was set. As stated in the regulation, it is expected that climate-related expenditure should exceed 35% of the overall H2020 budget, while an appropriate tracking mechanism should be put in place to this regard. Furthermore, strong internationalization (cooperation with third countries) of science and research was encouraged under H2020, based on common interest and mutual benefit.

The vast majority of climate science actions under H2020 were to be developed and implemented under Societal Challenge 5: “Climate Action, Environment, Resource Efficiency, and Raw Materials” with a dedicated budget of €3.081 billion. The language used by the colegislators to define the specific objectives of Societal Challenge 5 reflected the policy landscape and conceptual frameworks of that period:

Climate change was clearly depicted as an overarching challenge and not as a merely environmental issue (and thus references to a “climate change resilient economy and society” and “transition toward a low carbon society”).

There was, for the first time, an explicit reference to “global warming below 2°C” (following the agreements reached on December 11 in Cancun, Mexico, at the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference).

European competitiveness, raw material security, and well-being should be pursued while assuring environmental integrity, resilience, and sustainability.

H2020 embraced the concept of planetary boundaries—proposed in 2009 by a group of 29 leading earth scientists—by making reference to growth and use of raw materials “within the sustainable limits of the planets natural resources and ecosystems” (Rockström et al., 2009).

It is also evident that H2020 was more solution-oriented and challenge-driven compared to previous FPs stressing that actions strive to achieve a climate change resilient economy and society. To that end, innovation and technological development focusing on climate solutions in key areas such as urban environment and cities increased under H2020.

H2020 recognized the transnational and global nature of climate change, its scale, complexity, and its increasingly multidisciplinary nature, and as such, underlined the Union’s added-value in this domain.

The implementation of H2020 in the area of climate science focused to further consolidate and develop cross-national research activities of policy relevance building upon the success of FP7 and identified knowledge gaps and shortcomings, while at the same time introduced a number of important novelties both in terms of research areas and also working methods. In the former category, a comprehensive portfolio of research projects was developed in areas such as: next generation earth system models, regional climate modeling, the economics of climate change, improving knowledge toward a comprehensive greenhouse gas verification system, paleoclimatology, post-2030 socioeconomic pathways toward decarbonization and climate resilience, and changes and underlying processes in the Arctic and Antarctic (including the creation of a coordination platform for European polar research).

One of the key novelties was the focus on climate services. H2020 recognized the need for translating the existing wealth of climate data information and scientific knowledge into customized tools and products, empowering users at various levels to make evidence-based decisions and better manage the risks and opportunities of climate change. Another novelty of H2020 was the clear recognition (and subsequent implementation through targeted calls for proposal in Work Programme 2018–2020) of the interlinkages between climate change, biodiversity, and ecosystem services and the need to address the complex nexus of climate–water–food–energy. This approach further accelerated the rise of multi- and inter-disciplinary work in earth system sciences and facilitate the closer cooperation of different scientific communities in Europe.

H2020 demonstrated greater flexibility and capacity to adjust priorities and redirect actions in line with new policy developments. Although H2020 was designed before the Paris Agreement, the historic COP21 (December 12, 2015) outcome was quickly integrated into its rationale and implementation. (For a comprehensive review of EU climate policies please refer to Runge-Metzger, 2021). Under the Work Programme 2018–2020, a dedicated call for building a low carbon, climate resilient future; climate action in support of the Paris Agreement, was introduced with the aim of accelerating and aligning research efforts toward new policy needs.

H2020 was able to and flexible enough to, in its last year of operation, incorporate the important political developments emanating from the newly established Commission College, and in particular the European Green Deal (EGD) ( Communication, 2019). In September 2020, and as an immediate response to the EGD, a €1 billion call for research and innovation projects was launched to respond to the climate crisis and help protect Europe’s unique ecosystems and biodiversity. The so-called European Green Deal Call served also as a bridge to the new FP, Horizon Europe (HE) in terms of content and political priorities.14

FP9: HE (2021–2027)

A Mission-Oriented Approach to Climate Science

HE, with a budget of €97.6 billion, represents the world’s biggest international research and innovation program (EU Regulation, 2021). The HE Specific Programme acknowledges climate change

as one of the biggest global and societal challenges and reflects the importance of tackling climate change in accordance with the Union’s commitment to implement the Paris Agreement adopted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Accordingly, the Specific Programme should contribute to mainstream climate actions and to the achievement of an overall target of 30% of all EU budget expenditures supporting climate objectives. Similar to H2020, at least 35% of financial commitments under HE should contribute to climate objectives.

The center of gravity on climate science is now under Pillar 2 “Global Challenges and European Industrial Competitiveness” and in particular under the cluster “Climate Energy and Mobility.” HE recognizes thatconsiderable advances have been made in climate science, but also that there is a need to fill the remaining knowledge gaps and to further enhance the spatial and temporal granularity of climate science while ensuring adequate interaction with citizens and other stakeholders in view of supporting the Paris Agreement implementation.

Under the intervention area “Climate Science and Solutions” (with a budget of €1 billion) climate science over the period 2021–2027 should focus on the current functioning and future evolution of the earth-climate, as well as associated impacts, risks, and climate-responsible opportunities; climate-neutral pathways, mitigation actions, and policies compatible with the Paris Agreement and the SDGs; climate models, projections, and techniques that aim to improve predictive capacity and climate services for businesses, public authorities, and citizens; and adaptation pathways and support policies for vulnerable ecosystems, urban areas, critical economic sectors, and infrastructures.

Other parts of HE also contribute to climate science, especially under the cluster “Food, Bioeconomy, Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment” in areas such as agriculture and forestry as carbon sinks, to increase the adaptability of primary production to climate change, and to better understand the role of seas and oceans in climate change mitigation and adaptation.

One of the main novelties of HE is the rise of a mission-oriented approach to research and innovation based on the premise that innovation has not only a rate but also direction (Mazzucato, 2018). Directionality in research and innovation becomes critical in the 21st century, given the need to respond to major social, environmental, and economic challenges. The mission-oriented approach in HE is manifested by the design and implemented of the so-called EU Missions (Communication, 2021a). They support Europe’s transformation into a greener, healthier, more inclusive, and resilient continent by putting research and innovation into a new role combined with new forms of governance and collaboration, as well as by engaging with stakeholders and citizens. Four out of the five selected EU Missions contribute to the EGD. These are: Mission Adaptation to Climate Change (supporting at least 150 European regions and communities to become climate resilient by 2030); Mission Restore our Ocean and Waters by 2030; Mission 100 Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities by 2030; and Mission A Soil Deal for Europe (100 living labs and lighthouses to lead the transition toward healthy soils by 2030). For an overview of all FPs, see Figure 1. For an overview of main areas of climate science addressed in EU-funded programs, see Figure 2.

Figure 1. Framework Program (FP) 1 to Horizon Europe (FP9).

Figure 2. Main areas of climate science addressed in EU-funded programs.

The Thematic Perspective

European Research Tackling the Challenges of the Polar Environment and Climate

The poles are the archives of the world’s climate, used both for the reconstruction of past climate and for the validation of models predicting future climate change. The polar regions are experiencing unprecedented environmental change induced by elevated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from fossil fuel combustion and increasing carbon dioxide/methane (CO2/CH4) levels in the atmosphere. These are warming of the regional atmosphere at the fastest rate on earth with the depletion of the extent and thickness of Arctic/Antarctic ice, reduction of snow/ice albedo, increase of the extent of the ozone hole, rapid melting of Greenland ice sheets, potential for slowing the thermohaline circulation in the North Atlantic, increased permafrost temperature leading to widespread fires in Siberia, and increased drive to open Arctic marine transport. All of these changes have altered and may continue to disrupt regional ecology and the sustainability prospects of regional societies.15

European researchers have been at the forefront of polar research since the 19th century, and since 1990, the European Union (EU) Framework Programmes (FPs) continue this fine tradition by supporting large transnational efforts. The remoteness, size, and harshness of conditions make research expeditions and permanent stations expensive; obtaining comprehensive information remains a challenge and international cooperation is a must.

The Arctic Council, formed in 1996 and consisting of eight EU member states and six Indigenous members, is the leading intergovernmental body promoting cooperation, coordination, and interaction among the Arctic states, Indigenous people, and other inhabitants on common Arctic issues, in particular on sustainable development and environmental protection. All Arctic Council decisions and statements require the consensus of the eight Arctic states.

With three EU member states (Finland, Sweden, and Denmark) having territory in the Arctic and being members of the Arctic Council, Europe has long played a role in the socioeconomic and environmental aspects of the region. Regarding Antarctica, Belgium, France, and one associated EU country, Norway, are participating in the Antarctic Treaty signed in 1959 and amended in 1991 in Madrid designating this region as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science.

The International Polar Years (IPYs) played an important role in polar research. The 1957–1958 IPY focused on polar research and produced discoveries that fundamentally changed how science was conducted in the polar regions. Fifty years later, the 2007–2008 IPY offered enormous opportunities and produced results that stepped upward our understanding of the polar regions.

As far back as in 1991 (FP3) and proceeding to the 2000s, the EU funded major research on natural climate change, anthropogenic climate change and its impacts, the stratospheric ozone (due to the Antarctic ozone hole), biogeochemical cycles and the impact of anthropogenic forcing, and ecosystem dynamics. Throughout this period, foci were on the physics and the chemistry of the atmosphere and biosphere–atmosphere exchanges, including major interactions with the International Geosphere Biosphere Programme.

In the 1990s, priority was given to European activities on applications of remote sensing leading ultimately to the European Space Agency and to the Copernicus Programme for goods and services in the Arctic region. In 1992 the European-founded Greenland Ice Core Project (GRIP) reached bedrock.

In 1995 the European Polar Board (EPB), a scientific cooperation platform, was formed as a strategic advisory committee of the European Science Foundation. The EPB included several EU member states.

The European Polar Consortium (EPC), a brainchild of the EPB supported by FP6, promoted synergies in major areas of European scientific expertise, including climatology, ice coring, and life in extreme environments. The EPC contributed to the strategic coordination and networking of European research efforts.

Overall, under FP5 (1998–2002) and FP6 (2002–2006), more than 50 projects related to polar research were financed with a total budget of approximately €200 million.

In 2004, an Arctic coring expedition (United Kingdom, Sweden, and international partner Russia) to the Lomonosov Ridge retrieved the deepest Arctic sedimentary core ever, corresponding to 55 million years. The same year, the European Project on Ice Coring in Antarctica (EPICA) reached a drilling depth covering 900,000 years of climate history, and its work continued from 2004 to 2007 with EPICA-MIS project combining the study of paleoclimate through ice and marine core studies.

In 2005, the IPY-CARE (Climate in the Arctic and its Role for Europe) Project was financed to prepare activities for the forthcoming IPY. The same year the large interdisciplinary project DAMOCLES was financed with €32 million for 4 years to examine the interaction of ice, atmosphere, and the oceans. Among the highly successful field experiments of DAMOCLES was the publicly well-known Tara Arctic expedition (2006–2008).

The International Symposium on Polar Environment and Climate, the Challenges held in Brussels in March 2007 provided a consolidated overview of the latest European research achievements in polar research and highlighted outstanding research questions. Its report became one of the strategic documents contributing to the development of the seventh FP (EC Report, 2007).

In 2008, the EU established a clear policy toward the Arctic region, which would support and communicate research to address environmental and climate challenges in the Arctic, acting responsibly in furthering economic development sustainably and intensify engagement with the Arctic states and its peoples (Communication, 2008). The pillars of EU involvement were expanding knowledge (expertise in environment and climate change and the expansion of earth observation systems and services [Galileo, Copernicus]), achieving aims with responsibility (promoting the sustainable management of resources in mineral extraction, fisheries, tourism, and shipping) and engagement (via the Arctic Council and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) to Arctic management, and expanding international cooperation to safeguard and wisely use the resources of this shared sea.

Also in FP7, the Infrastructure Programme, with a budget of €45 million, covered the establishment of “observatories” to understand water column processes, to network terrestrial field bases circum-Arctic, and to quantify the uncertainty of state-of-the-art climate forecasts. This was done by evaluating the ability to model the most important oceanic and atmospheric processes in the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans and by comparing key predictions with observations. Among these observatories included funding the European–Russian Center in St. Petersburg to extend and consolidate scientific cooperation between researchers from the EU with those from Russia in the field of climate and environmental changes and their impacts in the Arctic and subarctic regions in the 21st century.

One of the key polar research activities in FP7 was the establishment of the EU-PolarNet 2 Project comprised of 25 partners, representing all European and associated countries with well-developed polar research programs in collaboration with the United States, Russia, and Canada. The project provided a platform to codevelop strategies to advance polar research and to contribute to policymaking processes.

In Horizon2020 (H2020), some €200 million were spent on polar research projects.16 In 2016, a European Commission (EC) communication for the Arctic focused on strong international cooperation in response to climate change impacts in the Arctic’s fragile environment and on promoting sustainable development particularly in the European Arctic (Communication, 2016). Accordingly, the EU’s policy on the Arctic was developed to be based on a green-growth approach involving supporting research and distributing knowledge, sustainable use of resources, and better linking to indigenous knowledge and customs.

The EU created a network of all funded projects in FP7 and H2020 including Arctic and Antarctic projects, called the Polar Cluster. This cluster merged research and coordination activities from permafrost studies, sea ice projects, models improving predictions, networking research stations, and coordinating much needed access to icebreakers.

In May 2021, the EU highlighted its leading role in Arctic science and pressed for urgent actions including implementing observatories, data sharing, and improving understanding and prediction capability of environmental and social systems change in the Arctic, including their global impact.17

In October 2021, the EU linked environment and socioeconomic objectives in a new policy for the Arctic including security and climate change concerns to ensure a peaceful, sustainable and prosperous Arctic (Communication, 2021c). Goals included expanding global monitoring and forecasting capabilities, supporting a fit-for-purpose Arctic Ocean observatory, and funding research infrastructures and coordinating networks. This aimed to include free access to Arctic Ocean data through the Copernicus Marine Service.

Under Horizon Europe (HE)—and building upon the strong legacy of H2020—the EU continues to support projects focusing on integrating observing systems and studying the impact of weather and climate in the northern hemisphere and the effect of climate change in the Arctic.

Constructing a European Research Area for Climate Modeling

Modeling climate change is a resource-intensive research activity involving supercomputers and a multidisciplinary approach. Setting up and running a climate “experiment” using a computer model to simulate 100 years of climate evolution on a global scale can take weeks or even months while analysis of results takes even longer.

In the EU there are a finite number of institutes that conduct research into climate and climate change. Some institutes specialize in global modeling while others focus on a regional approach or on the potential impacts of climate change over a range of systems and sectors. Against this diverse but rather fragmented background, the EU initiated the ENSEMBLES project to inform decision makers and the public by providing climate information obtained through a comprehensive use of the latest climate modeling and analysis tools. The ENSEMBLES project represented the first occasion in which this wide spectrum of researchers was brought together to work with a single purpose. The added value of the ENSEMBLES project was in running multiple climate models (“ensembles”)—a method known to improve the accuracy and reliability of results.

This project (2004–2009), led by the U.K. Met Office, was comprised of a consortium of 66 institutes from 20 countries, mostly from Europe. The size and duration of ENSEMBLES made it one of the biggest climate change research projects ever conducted. Although there are larger international programs, these may assess or coordinate research but do not conduct any research themselves. The work program of ENSEMBLES included coordination with bodies such as the Coupled Model Inter-comparison Project (CMIP), World Climate Research Programme (CLIVAR, GEWEX) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), while collaboration with other FP7 projects was also pursued. Its impact goes far beyond its scientific quality, results, and contribution to EU climate policy and international assessments such as the IPCC. By bringing together for the first time a pan-European multidisciplinary team of institutes and researchers on climate modeling, it created the foundations for a comprehensive and systemic approach, acting as a cornerstone for a European research area (ERA) in this domain. This far-reaching impact was evident in FP7 and H2020, where a strong portfolio of cross-national research actions and infrastructures on climate projections emerged in Europe, further consolidating and coordinating the European efforts, creating economies of scale, reducing fragmentation, and promoting mutual learning. For example, the Infrastructure for the European Network for the Earth System Modeling (IS-ENES) fostered the integration of the European climate and earth system modeling community and facilitated the networking and development of these models. The COMBINE project further improved earth system models (ESMs) by including key (missing) physical and biogeochemical processes known to influence the variability of climate, the feedback determining climate change, and analyses of the ocean and sea ice in prediction systems.18 The CRESCENDOproject coordinated a European contribution to the 6th Coupled Model Inter-comparison Project (CMIP6).19 NextGEMS and ESM2025 are two of the most recent EU-funded projects with the aim of developing next generation ESMs by tapping expertise from 14 and 20 (respectively) research institutions across Europe and beyond.

Searching for the Right Balance: Solving the Puzzle of Carbon Sources and Sinks

Carbon cycle research on terrestrial ecosystems emerged from research into acid rain. In 1987 a symposium held at Grenoble on “Air Pollution and Ecosystems” further substantiated the acid rain effects and extended the focus toward climate and nitrogen interactions (Mathy, 1987). In the first and second FPs, the projects CLIMEX (climate experiments), CORE (reciprocal exchange of soil cores), ENCORE (European catchment studies), EPOCH (atmospheric constituents), EXMAN (experimental ecosystem manipulations), and NITREX (nitrogen saturation experiments) addressed specific themes on terrestrial ecosystems. The third (1993–1995) and fourth (1997–1999) FP projects further extended the areas of research: NIPHYS (nitrogen physiology of ecosystems); CANIF (carbon–nitrogen interactions); FLUXNET, EUROFLUXNET, and MEDIFLUX (focusing at canopy level); ESCOBA and ESCOBA (carbon in the ocean, the biosphere, and the atmosphere); and EUROSIBERIAN CARBON FLUX (extended beyond Europe). During this period the Kyoto Protocol (1993) was negotiated, which incorporated an accounting of biological sinks.

In 1998 an expert meeting in Brussels discussed the greenhouse gas sink approach of the Kyoto Protocol. The meeting represented a turning point where the emphasis shifted from nitrogen and air pollution toward greenhouse gases and the carbon cycle. As a result, FP5 significantly increased the efforts on carbon cycle research. About 22 projects were established, addressing scientific questions around ecosystems, canopy fluxes and atmospheric processes; establishing continuous high-precision tall tower observations; performing regional assessments of the European carbon balance; and developing terrestrial and atmospheric carbon observation systems and global observations outside Europe (mainly in Siberia and the Amazon forest). Concerning European ecosystems, the focus was mainly on soils, forests, croplands, grasslands, and peatlands, including the effects of human-induced practices (e.g., forest management, nitrogen deposition, land-use and land-use change, and agricultural practices). Most of those carbon-related projects were—at that time—combined under the umbrella of the so-called “CarboEurope” cluster. Despite the important scientific progress made by these projects, it was evident that the complexities and challenges associated with the terrestrial carbon cycle required a different approach if it were to deliver comprehensive and policy-relevant information.

In FP6, new implementation instruments—such as large integrated projects (IPs)—were introduced with the aim of achieving a higher integration of European research around key areas, reducing fragmentation, and increasing a more efficient use of European resources and capabilities. As a result, the CarboEurope IP was established in 2003.20 The project consisted of 75 partners across 17 European nations, bringing together more than 400 scientists and training approximately 60 PhD students. The project’s novelty was mainly in its strategy to overcome the main challenge faced by the scientific community in their attempt to calculate terrestrial carbon fluxes across Europe: addressing simultaneously small-scale variability and covering the whole geographic extent of the continent. The strategy was the one of two-way scaling (up from the flux measurements, and down from the continental network of concentration measurements). The new IP instrument under FP6 was the appropriate vehicle to implement such strategy, which required several scientific teams working together under a comprehensive and well-coordinated work plan and the timeless movement of information and ideas between the various scientific disciplines. This research effort was further supported by research projects outside Europe, mainly the CarboAfrica, CarboNorth, and Pan-Amazonia projects.

On the marine front, constructing an inventory of anthropogenic carbon in the ocean (including regional and global air–sea net CO2 fluxes), understanding the control mechanisms of the carbon cycle, and providing meaningful projections about potential future developments proved to be a challenging endeavor. This was due to the characteristics, underlying dynamics, and temporal and spatial scales associated with the carbon cycle in the ocean.

A series of EU FP4 Marine Sciences and Technologies Programme (“MAST”) projects were created in order to better quantify the various biological and physical carbon pathways in the ocean, such as ASGAMAGE (process of air–sea gas exchange), ESCOBA (linking carbon cycling with ocean circulation), and CARUSO (coupled carbon-nutrient cycling in the Southern Ocean). These projects highlighted new emerging issues and knowledge gaps, influencing the emergence of several projects in the subsequent FP. During FP5, the role of ocean circulation on carbon transport was investigated in projects TRACTOR, OCMIP-2, NOCES, and GOSAC. Furthermore, a systematic use of voluntary observing ships for semiautomatic measurements of surface ocean CO2 partial pressure, surface air CO2 concentrations, and air–sea CO2 fluxes in the North Atlantic was introduced by CAVASSOO.

Although these projects provided useful insights into ocean carbon cycle processes, they also highlighted the need to integrate expertise and knowledge in order to create a comprehensive policy-relevant knowledge base and fully exploit the fragmented capacities and resources across Europe. Following consultations with the scientific community and based on the experience gained by the more integrated research community on terrestrial carbon, the CarboOcean project was launched in FP6.21 CarboOcean was a milestone in European marine carbon cycle research as for the first time relevant disciplines could work together under one research project, overcoming the fragmentation of past decades. Approximately 200 scientists from 16 countries (in Europe but also the United States, Canada, and Morocco) were part of the project, with the aim of improving the description and quantification of the CO2 air–sea exchange on a seasonal to interannual scale for the Atlantic Ocean and the Southern Ocean.

At the same time, during FP6, an additional level of integration was achieved at the European level. Thanks to the close collaboration between CarboOcean and CarboEurope, through the continuous exchange of information and joint workshops, terrestrial and marine research communities were interacting for the first time within the framework of those two EU-funded IPs, providing a more holistic and integrated view of the carbon cycle and climate change. In addition, a third large-scale IP, NitroEurope, investigating the ways in which human alteration of the nitrogen cycle is acting as driver of Europe’s greenhouse gas balance complemented this landscape.22 Through a partnership of 62 research institutions across Europe, Russia, Africa, and China, NitroEurope became instrumental in consolidating Europe’s research community and providing important policy-relevant results (highlighted also in the 2011 influential report The European Nitrogen Assessment, Sutton et al., 2011).

These large IPs constituted an important tipping point for European research on biochemical cycles as they (a) provided for the first time comprehensive policy-relevant scientific assessments (EC Report, 2009b); (b) integrated the various disciplines and scientific communities across Europe around a key scientific and policy challenges, despite the different methodologies and experimental designs; (c) provided new insights to climate modelers in terms of processes and their integration to climate models; (d) had an important international impact and allowed Europe to take a global lead in carbon cycle research (through international collaborations, standards setting, and input to important endeavors such as the Global Carbon Project, the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, the International Nitrogen Initiative, and the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report [AR4]); and (e) became instrumental in the conception and creation of Europe’s Integrated Carbon Observing System. Their legacy and novelties had a strong impact on research actions in subsequent FPs (FP7, H2020, and the current HE), bringing science and policy closer in this area.

Shedding Light on Emerging Risks Through a Flagship Research Project: The Case of Ocean Acidification

Despite the urgency and scale of risks associated with ocean acidification, for many years this problem stood in the shadow of the climate change debate (and despite that both originate from the same cause: the release of anthropogenic CO2 into the atmosphere).

Until the end of FP6, no research actions targeting ocean acidification had been commissioned at the European level, while national research efforts were scarce and fragmented. This was about to change in FP7. The European Project on Ocean Acidification (EPOCA) was Europe’s answer to increasing concern about ocean acidification. Launched in May 2008 with the overall goal to further our understanding of the biological, ecological, biogeochemical, and societal implications of ocean acidification, EPOCA was the first large-scale international research effort on ocean acidification. The project brought together approximately 160 scientists from 32 institutions in 10 European countries. Funded by the EU and by member states (the EU contribution was €6.5 million for a total budget of €16 million), the project brought together a multidisciplinary team of scientists targeting four main areas: (a) changes in ocean chemistry and biogeography, (b) biological responses, (c) biogeochemical impacts and feedback, and (d) dissemination and outreach.

EPOCA was a turning point in European (and to some extent international) research on ocean acidification due to its unprecedented impact on several domains. In terms of scientific impact, EPOCA generated a large number of critical data, and approximately 200 papers were published based on the project’s findings, filling important knowledge gaps regarding changes in ocean chemistry and quantifying the impact of ocean acidification on marine organisms and ecosystems. It was estimated that during the period 2009–2011, every fifth publication on ocean acidification was an EPOCA contribution. The project was also instrumental in developing the Guide to Best Practices in Ocean Acidification Research and Data Reporting, facilitating the standardization of data protocols and reporting, which are crucial for meaningful comparisons and collaboration. The book Ocean Acidification (Gattuso & Hansson, 2011) was the first to synthesize the latest understanding of the consequences of ocean acidification, with the intention of informing both future research agendas and marine management policy.

Concerning the international dimension, EPOCA cooperated from the very beginning with international partners. Its international scientific advisory panel, which included members from the United States, Korea, and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO), ensured that EPOCA research was linked with research activities of non-EU scientists.

Regarding the science–stakeholders interface, the reference user group (RUG) concept proved to be a highly successful mechanism for ensuring the relevance, user-friendliness, and outreach of research. EPOCA RUG members included stakeholders from government, business, industry, and nongovernmental organizations, and they worked with project scientists throughout the project, advising on the analyses and products that would be most useful to policy advisors and decision makers as well as the format and nature of key messages arising from the research project.

EPOCA used a variety of dissemination and communication techniques to ensure that concerns and knowledge about ocean acidification reached beyond the scientific community. For example, working closely with students of Ridgeway School in Plymouth, United Kingdom, they produced a highly cited and seen animated film, entitled “The Other CO2 Problem” to raise awareness about ocean acidification in schools. The movie “Tipping Point” (by Laurence Jourdan and Nicolas Koutsikas), which featured EPOCA research, received three awards including the “best scientific movie” at the Mediterranean Film Festival and the Prince Rainier III Special Prize at the 2011 Festival de Television de Monte-Carlo.

Finally, EPOCA had a catalytic effect for ocean acidification research in Europe, as it inspired and consolidated a series of relevant research actions. A number of EU-funded projects were launched soon after EPOCA, including MEDSEA (Mediterranean Sea Acidification in a Changing Climate [2011–2014]); MEECE (Marine Ecosystem Evolution in a Changing Environment [2008–2013]); and HERMIONE (Hotspot Ecosystem Research and Man’s Impact on European Seas [2009–2012]). At the same time, significant national programs on ocean acidification started to emerge such as the United Kingdom Ocean Acidification Research Programme (UKOA [2010–2015]) and the German Biological Impacts of Ocean Acidification (BIOACID [2012–2015]). As a result, a powerful portfolio of ocean acidification research actions was created in Europe, consolidating and enlarging the scientific community in this area but also bringing ocean acidification closer to the attention of policymakers. Some EU projects cofunded under the EU’s seventh FP (EU FP7) undertaking research in ocean acidification have been involved in the establishment of the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Center (OA-ICC), operated by the International Atomic Energy Agency in Monaco. The OA-ICC organizes training courses in member states and provides access to data and resources to advance ocean acidification research.

Progress in Climate Research of the Regional Seas: The Case of the Mediterranean

Climate change effects are especially evident in the oceans, with European regional seas showing pronounced and rapid impacts (EEA, 2021). Among them, the Mediterranean region is a hotspot for projected climate risks due to the combination of strong climate hazards and high vulnerability.23 The impacts of climate change for this region include alterations in overturning circulation, extreme wave heights, warming, sea level rises, storm surges, acidification, oxygen depletion, and invasive species (Tintore et al., 2019).

Since FP1, attention to the European seas was initiated with the project EROS 2000 (European River Ocean System) launched in 1988. This was an interdisciplinary research project on the biogeochemical processes in coastal areas of the western Mediterranean Sea, which continued in FP2 (EC Report, 1989). It delivered an extensive data set on the role of the coastal environment in sequestrating carbon, in the exchange of CO2 across the air–sea interface, and on the socioeconomic consequences of climate modifications in the coastal zone (EC Report, 1992). FP2 highlighted the importance of the ocean in climate dynamics and supported research through the Environment Programme and MAST-I.

FP3 emphasized European coastal areas and regional sea projects. In 1993, MAST-II supported, with approximately €20 million, regional large-scale interdisciplinary projects focusing on the Mediterranean, called the Mediterranean Targeted Project (MTP-I), and on the Atlantic Ocean, called the Ocean Margin Exchange (OMEX-I) Project. These projects covered a variety of themes from atmospheric chemistry to physical and chemical oceanography, biogeochemistry, benthic ecology, and socioeconomic implications of global and climate change. MTP-I involved 200 scientists from 70 institutions and 14 European countries. It had an important impact because it created a new community of European scientists working on the Mediterranean Sea (La Recherche, 1998). Projects such as the MTP and OMEX were the predecessors of the IPs of FP6 and, to an extent, of the missions of HE.

FP4 through MAST-III (MAST-III had an overall budget of 240 million ECU) supported four regional sea projects addressing global environmental change with €36 million ECU, respectively: in the Mediterranean (MTP-II MATER), the Baltic (BASYS), the Atlantic (OMEX II), and the Canary-Azores region (CANIGO).

MTP addressed the Mediterranean Sea in its entirety for the first time, studying the transfer of energy and mass between the different compartments and the ecosystem response. MTP also combined physical and ecological modeling and constructed holistic predictive models.

The project drew a picture of a regional sea acutely sensitive to environmental change. Prominent results included evidence of warming in deep Mediterranean waters and an increase in salinity in the western and eastern Mediterranean as a response to climate change (Science, 1998).

The International Conference on Progress in Oceanography of the Mediterranean Sea held in Rome in November 1997 highlighted European research achievements and outstanding research questions. Its report and MTP results were described in a special edition of “Progress in Oceanography” (Lipiatou et al., 1999) and became one of the strategic documents contributing to the development of further research in this regional sea. Articles in

Science (1998) and La Recherche (1998), as well as a dedicated film24 of TV ARTE highlighted the successes of the MTP-I and MTP-II, MTP being the biggest and more successful EU regional sea project at that time.

The Environment Programme during FP4 financed a regional project on the Black Sea (EROS 2021), which enhanced the understanding of complex interactions between human activities and the coastal environment (Lancelot et al., 2002).

In FP5 global change key action included support for the development of a European component of the global observation systems for climate and oceans. FP5 coincided with the finalization of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS)/Global Climate Observing System Action Plan and the start of several new regional GOOS programs including MedGOOS in 1999.

FP5 financed hundreds of projects on the role of the ocean in climate change and the global carbon cycle, including harmful algal blooms in regional seas (EC Report, 2002) and climate change impacts on regional seas coupling atmosphere and ocean. The Mediterranean Forecasting System Pilot Project (MFSPP) developed and implemented nested regional and shelf sea models to simulate seasonal variability (Pinardi et al., 2003).

In FP6, the CIRCE IP focused on the prediction of climate change impacts in the Mediterranean basin and evaluated the consequences of such impacts on society and the economy. The SESAME IP worked on climate and ecosystem links of the Mediterranean and Black Seas to the world ocean and the climate change impacts in the past 50 years and the future 50 years. The project had a strong international cooperation component. SESAME results showed that one third of Posidonia oceanica meadows have been lost in the last 50 years and that until 2050, one fourth of Mediterranean freshwater inputs (in comparison to 1960) will be lost (Gregoire et al., 2014).

In FP7, the SEAS ERA (“Toward Integrated European Marine Research Strategy and Programmes”) focused on the construction of the ERA of marine sciences at basin scale. A new region wide project PERSEUS, started in 2011, focused on science-evidenced policy and targeted in particular regional policymakers of the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Through the PERSEUS project (Papathanassiou et al., 2015), science played a new role by developing innovative tools to support policymakers in meeting the objectives of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. Through a methodological process of gap and impact analysis, PERSEUS updated and prioritized the main environmental risks for the Mediterranean and Black Seas, as also described at a policy brief.25

The Mediterranean Climate Variability and Predictability Project (MEDGLIVAR) started in 2012 and studied the climate of the Mediterranean region from the past to the future. The MEDSEA project on the Mediterranean Sea Acidification in a Changing Climate assessed the long-term efficiency of the sea to remove atmospheric CO2. The Climate Change and Marine Ecosystem Research (CLAMER) project showed beyond reasonable doubt that climate change has already impacted all the oceans and seas of Europe and beyond. The state-of-the-art overview included physical changes such as sea level rise, sea surface temperature (SST) increase, and stratification changes across the European seas. The ECOGENES (Adapting to Global Change in the Mediterranean hotspot: from genes to ecosystems) project created a cooperation platform where institutions from Europe—but particularly those of the Mediterranean region—could exchange experiences, share standards and data, and promote the training of experts to deal with the threats posed by global change.

H2020 (Work Programme 2016-2017) valorized the experience gained with the Blue Med initiative ( set up in 2014 in the framework of the European Strategy on Blue Growth and in 2016 called for an integrated Mediterranean observing system and for the coordination of marine and maritime activities for research and innovation.26 In 2019 a publication by the Mediterranean community on the result of more than 30 years of EU and nationally funded research coordination demonstrated the key contributions in science concepts and operational initiatives (Tintore et al., 2019).

The Mediterranean scientific community has coordinated with universities, research centers, research infrastructures, and private companies to implement advanced multiplatform and integrated observing and forecasting systems that facilitate the advancement of operational services, scientific achievements, and mission-oriented innovation. The combination of state-of-the-art observations and forecasting provided new opportunities for downstream services in response to a climate-changed world.

In 2018, the Partnership on Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Area (PRIMA), a 10-year initiative, was established. PRIMA obtained funding from 19 participating EU and non-EU countries and received €220 million from H2020. Its main objective was to devise new research and innovation approaches to improve water availability and sustainable agriculture production in a region heavily distressed by climate change, urbanization, and population growth.

HE dedicated one of its missions to the protection of the ocean by 2030, through the Mission ocean, seas, inland and coastal waters. This mission is expected to play a critical role by empowering citizens and practitioners to codesign and coimplement solutions. HE, especially through the cluster “Food, Bioeconomy, Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment” contributes to climate science and the improved understanding of the role of seas and oceans in climate change mitigation and adaptation. HE also supports the “Digital Twin of the Ocean,” a digital representation of real-world processes, which aims to integrate a wide range of existing and new data sources, used to transform data into knowledge, and make it publicly available to society.

Climate Services: The Rise of Demand-Driven Climate Information

Although knowledge on climate change and its dynamic interaction with human activity is expanding, many gaps still exist not only in the underlying science, but also in tailoring the available and newly produced information to the needs of stakeholders in order to be able to incorporate climate considerations into their decision-making processes. This realization led the European Commission to start developing a number of pilot projects around climate services in FP7, but more importantly, to establish an expert group with the task of proposing a research and innovation roadmap for climate services in June 2014.

The European Research and Innovation Roadmap for Climate Services, published in 2015, builds on stakeholder input and highlights the importance of cocreation and iteration between different actors and processes and offers a framework for action (EC Report, 2015). The term climate services covers the

transformation of climate-related data—together with other relevant information—into customised products such as projections, forecasts, information, trends, economic analysis, assessments (including technology assessment), counselling on best practices, development and evaluation of solutions and any other service in relation to climate that may be of use for the society at large. (p. 10)

The roadmap places emphasis on: (a) stakeholder engagement in practical and realistic demonstration of the benefits of climate services; (b) actions targeted at building engaged communities of users and providers; (c) sustained flow of new trans-disciplinary science to the operational dimension and supportive feedback; and (d) open access to data and data products.

The roadmap has been influential in the design of research actions in H2020 and HE, but also in fostering an EU agenda for climate services across Europe, adding value to the investment already made in Copernicus (Climate Change Service) at the European level and also contributing to the World Meteorological Organization’s Global Framework for Climate Services.

Building upon a number of pilot projects under FP7, the EU roadmap for climate services catalyzed the development of research and innovation actions under H2020.27 Indicative examples of cross-national actions included:

Climateurope, which created a Europe-wide framework for Earth-system modeling and climate service activities;

ERA for Climate Services (ERA4CS)ERA for Climate Services (ERA4CS), a joint activity between the European Commission and 16 European countries, which boosted research efforts in climate services though deep mobilization within EU member states and associated countries;

EU-European Market for Climate Services (EU-MACS), which delivered sector-specific analysis and ranking of drivers and barriers of innovation and uptake of climate services in finance, tourism, and urban planning;

I-CISK, which worked in seven living labs in climate hotspots with specific climatic and geographical settings in Europe, neighboring countries, and Africa, developing a customizable cloud-based web platform for climate services, linking data and service providers with users;28 and

Focus-Africa, which developed climate services for African stakeholders in four sectors: agriculture and food security, water, energy, and infrastructure.29

The EU roadmap on climate services was highly influential in anchoring climate services to EU’s research and innovation landscape. At the same time, the implementation of these actions to date (as of 2023) and the interactions and feedback from the epistemic community and stakeholders provides useful lessons that need to be taken into consideration in current and future programs. For example, the expression “one size fits none” is relevant as different users operate under diverse decision-making contexts and tools. Furthermore, as many users are most familiar with weather forecasts that offer deterministic forecasts, “shifting mind sets and operations towards probabilistic forecasts over longer time horizons is a major challenge, and limits users’ ability to trust climate” (Hermansen et al., 2021). It is also evident that there is a need for dedicated intermediaries to engage in the development and customization of climate services (by adapting information to local practice), while more attention needs to be paid to the demand-side of climate services to help viable climate services navigate and succeed in the space between technical invention and commercially successful innovation (the “valley of death” for climate services).

The Way Forward

The Framework Programmes (FP) have been powerful forces for European integration (Nature, 2019). Their creation and evolution have played a critical role in establishing Europe’s leading position on climate science by means of advancing knowledge, increasing the relevance of climate research for policymaking, and building long-lasting communities and platforms across Europe (and beyond) in areas such as climate modeling, polar science, paleoclimatology, earth observations, the carbon cycle, ocean acidification, and risk and impact analyses.

Due to their inherited longer-term planning and cross-national nature, the FPs have provided a stable framework for advancing climate science by encouraging scientists and institutions with diverse expertise to work together across borders, promoting excellence, creating the necessary critical mass to tackle the increasing complexity, and supporting the interdisciplinarity of climate science. No other group of countries collaborates systematically on climate science at such a scale. To that end, it is fair to say that European Union (EU)-funded climate science can be seen as one of those areas that helped progress the European research area (ERA) from a rather abstract concept toward a reality with a perceptible objective (Communication, 2020).

The experience gained and lessons learned from this long journey constitute a rich legacy for the future. In the aftermath of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report, and in view of the herculean efforts required to bridge the current implementation gap of the Paris Agreement, EU-funded climate science needs to address significant challenges but also harness opportunities.

Critical gaps in knowledge still remain and need to be pursued further. The next generation of earth system models needs to better capture the suite of couplings and feedback in the earth climate system through better use of data and improved understanding of key components such as water, sea ice dynamics, carbon and nitrogen cycles, and cloud dynamics. Assessing the stability and carrying capacity of the earth climate system under different scenarios in view of nonlinearities and tipping points including their interactions is critical.

Sustained observations, open access, and availability of data and tools, high-speed computing, and the applications of machine learning and artificial intelligence will be critical in increasing our capacity to collect, process, and interpret big data and understand the multifaceted mosaic of interactions and feedback mechanisms inherited in complex systems. It is also important to increase the capability to understand and quantify the cascading impacts of climate change at the local/regional scale and develop risk profiles for communities, ecosystems, economic sectors, and critical infrastructure in order to design effective pathways to climate resilience.

Furthermore, navigating successfully through the Anthropocene necessitates in-depth knowledge and integration of the complex natural and human components of the earth climate system (thus, breaking silos around disciplines and bringing together physical and social sciences and the humanities). Given the complex interplay between climate change and Sustainable Development Goals (e.g., energy security and poverty, food and water availability, well-being and welfare, air quality, inequality, and poverty eradication), climate science conducted within the broader framework of the sustainable development agenda will become even more relevant (and thus more impactful) to policymaking.

At the institutional level, higher levels of alignment between national and EU agendas on climate science need to be pursued, together with stepping up efforts in terms of resources and coordination, in order to further increase impact.

International cooperation, a key feature of the EU’s FPs over the years, needs to be maintained given the nature, scope, and challenges of climate science. The recent Communication on the Global approach to research and innovation (Communication, 2021b), which reaffirms the EU’s commitment to preserve openness in international research and innovation cooperation, while promoting a level playing field and reciprocity underpinned by fundamental values, provides a clear framework for implementation.

Climate science needs to expand its role beyond the “diagnosis” space, embracing also actions and mandates that belong to the “solution” space. Bridging the demand and supply side of climate-relevant information (through cocreation platforms bringing together decision makers, stakeholders, and the scientific community) will increase the relevance, usability, and timely application of new knowledge in decision-making processes at national, regional, and local levels and facilitate the design of systemic and deeply transformative solutions. Despite the progress made, embedding climate science into the institutional ecology of decision-making processes remains a challenge.

Finally, yet importantly, it is imperative that efforts are stepped up on both educational and communication aspects of climate science. This goes beyond developing the next generation of climate scientists and climate models. Raising awareness among policymakers, stakeholders, and citizens at large and providing evidence-based narratives, tools, and solutions are equally important. Ultimately, it is about empowering current and future generations with the necessary knowledge and skills so they become agents of positive change and sustainability.


The authors are grateful to the reviewers for their useful suggestions and comments.


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