quinta-feira, 15 de outubro de 2009

«With the Joint Technology Initiatives on Fuel Cells and hydrogen, commission showed it was ready to play its part on research on clean tecnologies»*

In October 2008, President Barroso called for "paving the way for Europe's low carbon energy future"; in December 2008, the European Council stated that "security of energy supply is a priority for the EU", calling for quicker implementation of the SET Plan; in January 2009, US President Obama announced investment in renewable energy and China presented a recovery plan focused on clean technologies.

This international mobilisation on low carbon technologies is good news with regard to our endeavour in addressing climate change and energy security issues. However, it represents also a challenge for future Europe's position.

Politically, Europe has already taken the lead on the fight against climate change. This has contributed to make us the champions on some energy technologies, but we must now step ahead on the technological front. The SET Plan represents the technology pillar to the comprehensive policy jigsaw formed by the Energy and Climate package. It is designed to help EU to accelerate research to develop a world-class portfolio of affordable, efficient and low emission energy technologies.

Where does EU stand at the moment? Our estimates for 2007 show that total public and private investment, from national and EU level, in the SET Plan priorities technologies amount around €3.2 bn. Studies also show that corporate and public R&D investments in these technologies largely concentrate in only few Member States. The industry finances around 69% of non-nuclear research activities but the R&D intensities – being between 2.2% and 4.5% - remain well below the intensities of other industrial sectors that have been booming lastly: for instance, the IT-related sectors experienced R&D intensities in the order of 8% to 18% over the last 5 years.
So, if we are serious about reaching our political environmental objectives, this is simply not enough.

The Commission announced today that a 50 bn euros additional investment in key low carbon technologies over the next 10 years would be necessary to foster their development, demonstration and early-market take up. This means an upgrade in the annual EU's investment that should go from the €3 bn I've just mentioned, to 8bn euros. Even though these figures have to be considered as an order of magnitude, they should act as a wake up call. You can find the
methodology and explanations on the estimates in the accompanying reports to the Communication and the SETIS website.

The question now is the following: is Europe ready to roll up its sleeves and concretely take actions? Honestly, we don't have much choice if we are serious with tackling climate change
and remaining competitive… What the Commission proposes to do today is to increase and pool together EU and national resources and leverage private investment. Calling for enhanced coordination of research at EU level is not only words: our study showed that, in 2007, the overall public investment on research in non-nuclear clean technologies was higher than the US' one. However, this does not translate into the 'quality' of our research and our innovation capacity. We do spend more for a less efficient result! And the reason simply lies on EU's fragmentation of research and lack of complementarities between Member States. In current times where each euro counts, this pledges for an urgent implementation of the SET Plan…
An increase in current level of investment is also needed to make the jump to a low carbon economy. Where should the money come from? Obviously not from a sole actor! Faced with such common challenge, what is required is a collective effort and a sense of shared responsibility between Member States, the business sector, researchers and the Commission.

Each of us should act when and where appropriate to share the risks. Public authorities, at national and EU level, have to give the policy direction, and use public budgets when technological uncertainties and market risks are high, to have a leverage effect on the industry.
The bulk of the funds will have to come from where the bulks of the funds are: from Member States and from the private sector. EU budget will be used to leverage a step change in the overall investment. This does not imply, at this stage, an increase of EU budget. But it is my firm belief that the SET Plan and today's Communication provide good reasons to reinforce our common activities at EU level when we decide on future development of EU budget.

However, this is not all about public money. We will make a difference when we have a stronger and massive involvement of the private sector. With today's proposal, with the public-private partnerships included in the EU economic recovery plan on green cars or energy efficiency building; with the Joint Technology Initiatives on Fuel Cells and hydrogen or Clean Sky, the Commission showed it was ready to play its part by bringing funding to research on clean

We now hope that the low carbon technology industry but also the finance sector will take the ball. Banks and private equity have to be more risk-friendly and invest in these companies that are building our future. A stronger intervention of the European Investment Bank as proposed today should also help to leverage private investments.

We are aware that, in crisis times, putting additional investment in low carbon technology can look like a "luxury". But on the contrary, such investment is part of the necessary structural reform of our economy. It will provide a strong shift to an investment-based growth. Early action in increased and coordinated investment will allow us to save money, to put Europe's on the right tracks for sustainable growth and to address the global challenges we already had before the crisis.

We have provided the springboard, we measured the height of the pummel horse,and we identified all the gymnasts. I now call Member States, companies and researchers to make this ambitious jump.

*Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for Science and Research, in Joint Press conference with Andris Piebalgs, Energy Commissioner, about "Investing in low carbon energy technologies" – SET Plan (7/10/2009)

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