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Pathways to sustainability: A better relationship between the planet and its people

Innovative frontier research supported by the European Research Council is paving the way towards a more sustainable future. This CORDIS Results Pack showcases eight cutting-edge projects at the forefront of this process.

Climate Change and Environment icon Climate Change and Environment
Society icon Society
Fundamental Research icon Fundamental Research

Sustainability is our ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising those of the future. The concept has a clear environmental component. Over the next 10 years, for example, we will need to make considerable efforts if we are to achieve the goal of stabilising global warming below 1.5 °C that was spelt out in the Paris Agreement. Moreover, most definitions of sustainability also include a social and economic dimension. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Report 2018 shows we are not meeting our targets on a wide range of societal challenges. According to the report, violent conflict and forced displacement is now one of the main drivers of food insecurity in 18 developing countries. How to bridge the rift between the goals and reality? The European Research Council (ERC) is encouraging the highest quality research in Europe through competitive funding. In doing so, the ERC is supporting some of the sharpest minds in Europe and beyond, as they seek to deepen our understanding of the challenges we face, and to provide innovative solutions.

The public and policymakers hand-in-hand

Mass protests and climate movements that have recently broken out all over the world show that sustainability is very much on people’s minds. Policymakers have not lagged behind. In the last 40 years Europe has put in place some of the world's highest environmental standards, along with ambitious climate policies, and has championed the Paris Agreement. Many sustainability challenges are vastly complex and uncertain. Developing robust knowledge that can lead to sustainable innovations and evidence-based policy is therefore key. This is why the European Commission is launching a forward-looking debate on sustainable development, as part of the broader reflection opened by the White Paper on the Future of Europe in March 2017. So while there is debate on what a sustainable future could look like, work supported by the ERC, as part of Horizon 2020, is helping us to better understand the complex balance between the needs of a growing global population and the planet which sustains it.

A taste of what’s to come over the following pages

This Results Pack showcases the work of eight projects, supported as part of the ERC’s promotion of frontier research, and explores topics such as new approaches to the filtration of drinking water, a closer look at the impact of living in deprived neighbourhoods, and innovative approaches to food production. Climate change is a life-threatening reality, and ways to tackle CO2 emissions are central to curbing it. In particular, the CO2Recycling project designed novel catalytic transformations in which CO2 is reacted in just a single step, to the synthesise amines, esters, and amides that are key to industrial productions in the chemical sector. Not only does this original project add value to the CO2 waste, but it is also a welcome alternative to the preparation of these essential chemicals which, until now, was based on a CO2-generating transformation of fossil fuels. Membrane filtration is the main method of water recycling for safe drinking. The process, which involves downtime for cleaning, carries heavy operational overheads which makes it too expensive for those developing countries that most need the technology. Based on the form of cicada wings, the ANEMONE project produced a material that reduces biofouling and is also antibacterial. Sustainability refers not only to a balanced relationship with the natural world but also with each other. What is the impact of living in a deprived neighbourhood? The DEPRIVEDHOODS project raised awareness of increasing levels of socio-economic segregation and its effects on individuals. The BENELEX project considered how the benefits derived from commercial discoveries can be shared between the countries in which researchers are based, and the countries from which genetic resources originated. LiveSEN tackled that old conundrum: how can you reduce the environmental impact of agriculture? By developing electrochemical biosensors to understand plant requirements directly in the field. Finally, ASTAOMEGA solved the problems linked to the production of Omega-3 and antioxidants at the same time, promising higher production rates and improved sustainability at a lower cost.