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Testing and demonstrating transformative solutions to protect critical infrastructure from climate change, mainstreaming nature based solutions.

This topic relates to the Mission’s objectives to mobilise at least 150 regions in testing the solutions most locally needed to build climate resilience and to deliver at least 75 deep demonstrations of systemic transformations to climate resilience.

It complements the Climate Adaptation Mission topic 2021-CLIMA-02-03, which focussed on modelling aspects, as it mainly addresses demonstration of solutions on the ground, therefore providing a relevant context to eventually take further promising approaches already identified.

The proposal should identify weaknesses and interlinkages of critical infrastructures, in order to develop and test innovative solutions, combining technological and social innovation, leading to an increase of the resilience and adaptation capacity to climate change in the involved regions, local authorities and communities, assuring that nature-based solutions are explored as priority and at the very heart of the development whenever possible.

In line with the Mission Implementation Plan and moreover with the new EU Climate Adaptation Strategy, implementing nature-based solutions on a larger scale would increase climate resilience. Blue-green (as opposed to grey) infrastructures represent multipurpose, “no regret” solutions, which simultaneously provide environmental, social and economic benefits and help build climate resilience, which uptake can be facilitated by better quantification and communication of their benefits. Nature based solutions (NBS) essential role for sustaining healthy water, oceans, ecosystems and soils was recognised, together with their potential to reduce costs, provide climate-resilient services, and improve compliance with Water Framework Directive[[ Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC)]] requirement for good ecological status, if they were to play a bigger role in land-use management and infrastructure planning. The resilience of nature-based solutions to climate change should also be taken into account.

As climate impacts, adaptive capacities and disaster risk reduction capabilities differ greatly across regions, the proposed scientific development and innovation should address specific needs identified at regional and local scale with tailor-made responses and measures, fully acknowledging place-based governance, socio-economic and identity characteristics and other place-based data. The successful methodologies and protocols are expected to be adapted to other regions, for further uptake.

In line with the Mission objective to build systemic climate resilience, the proposal should address the local vulnerabilities in order to mitigate the potential risks on the infrastructure being it as potential natural disasters, extreme weather events or long-term changes in average climate), as well as their potential negative impacts on critical assets and infrastructures and the interdependencies between those.

For example, the acceleration of deployment of renewable energy is not without consequences on other environmental and geopolitical challenges. The interdependency of water and energy is set to intensify in the coming years, with significant implications for both energy and water security. Coal and gas power plants require a lot of water, but also renewable sources could increase water stress or be challenged by it, either during operation or during the construction stage. For instance, hydropower requires water to be operated, so that droughts and water shortages that are likely to increase in the future may significantly affect its generation capacity in certain regions; on the other side, the expected increased water availability in certain regions might increase hydropower generation potential. Simultaneously, hydropower reservoirs can help in mitigating floods and store water, providing it during droughts. While wind or solar technologies require little water for their operation (but a significant amount, per unit of installed power capacity, during their manufacturing process), biofuels, concentrated solar power, carbon capture, renewable hydrogen produced through electrolysis or even low-carbon technologies like nuclear are water-intensive. Understanding these interlinkages and developing and testing solutions is therefore critical for the resilience of our economy and society, and to reduce sources of conflict.

Similarly, the achievement of a more interconnected Europe faces key challenges in the development of the interconnected transport networks and corridors, as changing groundwater levels, coastal storms frequency and their spatial incurrence, extreme temperatures, accelerated coastal erosion linked to sea level rise can have very negative effects on stability of rail and road infrastructures in coastal areas (clearly, this also affecting the development and lay down of energy and water networks laid in the proximity of coastal areas).

On that basis, the proposal should design and test solutions with the potential to reduce negative impacts both of long terms climate change and also of sudden extreme events attributable to climate change.

More specifically, the proposed solution should address:

  • Protecting critical infrastructure from climate impacts and making it ready to withstand the changing climate and its consequences, in particular in terms of maintaining efficiency of operations, minimizing downtime, reducing maintenance costs and protecting the capital invested;
  • Solutions for building and/or managing new critical infrastructure and/or upgrading/regenerating/revitalising/refurbishing existing ones through green/blue/hybrid infrastructure and if needed different governance structures, in particular in relation to climate-proofing it towards extreme events. Lifecycle ecological and CO2 footprint considerations, from sourcing the materials, including water and energy needed, through transportation of the material, building, maintenance and utilisation, should be embedded in the decision concerning the type of infrastructure approach to pursue;
  • Inclusion of digital and space solutions and services to better predict, monitor and report on climate events, in particular towards improved forecasts of adverse events and triggering adequate risk management and emergency procedures, to protect both business and population, in particular the most vulnerable and marginalised, taking into consideration the interconnections between critical infrastructures and their operation;

Under the Mission approach, collaborations to develop and test effective solutions between regions/local authorities/ communities facing similar climate risks and similar infrastructure challenges are highly encouraged. To this purpose, the proposals must include at least 4 demonstrations taking place in at least 4 different regions/cities/communities, which should collaborate in addressing the challenge. These (at least) 4 demonstrations must be located in at least 3 different EU Member States and/or Horizon Europe associated countries. Involvement in the proposal of regions eligible for Cohesion funds[[ Territories eligible for Cohesion funds are defined under the Cohesion policy: https://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/sources/graph/poster2021/eu27.pdf?]] to conduct at least one of the proposed demonstrations shall be regarded as a positive element. In agreement with the authorities responsible for the territories where the actions will be implemented, the consortium should develop a scalability plan including the diffusion of the innovative solutions, and a process for commitments (including funding and governance) in assuring their large-scale deployment and long-term operation beyond the time-life of the project itself. The consortium should seek guarantees for the non-reversibility, sustainability and continuity of the action after the end of the project.

The proposals should clearly identify the biogeographical area, for which the proposed solution is relevant and should explore possible reapplication to other regions, starting from those located in the same biogeographical areas. To support a large impact, the proposed solutions should be widely re-applicable. To this purpose, identification and inclusion of at least three “replicating” regions/local authorities/communities, interested in reapplying the lessons learnt (totally, partially or with the required adjustments) in their territories is strongly encouraged; this could take the form of inclusion in the consortium of one or more partners providing support for the technical exchanges and the knowledge uptake in the “replicating” regions.

In addition to the local/regional authorities owning the climate challenge, the consortium may include other type of partners, such as private or public research organisations, enterprises, and NGOs to ensure that all needed capabilities are available to develop and implement real life actions.

Proposals should build (when relevant) upon previous developed or existing knowledge and adaptation solutions, designed and developed from previous projects, including from beyond EU, addressing climate change adaptation and funded by European and national programmes, in particular the European Union Framework programmes for Research and Innovation (such as Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe under their different pillars and clusters), as well as the LIFE programme. Moreover, proposals should look into opportunities to scale up the solutions demonstrated and to foster their broad deployment across Europe through the LIFE programme, and its integrated projects in particular, and through the European Regional Development Fund programmes.

Proposals should include a mechanism and the resources to establish operational links with the Climate-ADAPT platform (run by the European Environment Agency (EEA) together with DG CLIMA) that will act as a central element for the monitoring, support and visualisation of the Mission progress in European Regions. To this purpose, projects will feed their results to the Climate-ADAPT and EEA assessments.

Projects funded under this topic are strongly encouraged to participate in the Mission Community of Practice that will be established amongst the Mission Charter signatories by the Mission Implementation Platform in the course of 2023 and in the networking and joint activities with other projects funded under other topics in the Mission Climate Adaptation as well as in other relevant Missions, as appropriate. These networking and joint activities could, for example, involve the participation in joint workshops, the exchange of knowledge, the development and adoption of best practices, or joint communication activities. To this extent, proposals should provide for dedicated activities and earmark appropriate resources.

The European Commission intends to establish a network and coordination activities amongst all the projects funded for the implementation of the Climate adaptation Mission, under the Horizon 2020 European Green Deal call and under Horizon Europe, and that will be coordinated by the soon to be established Mission Implementation Platform. The projects under this topic will be requested to contribute to this effort. Applicants should acknowledge this request and already account for these obligations in their proposal, making adequate provisions in terms of resources and budget to engage and collaborate with the Mission governance. Beyond the Mission, the projects funded under this topic are also encouraged to exchange and identify cooperation opportunities with other projects funded under Horizon Europe, in particular those funded under Cluster 3, and its Destination 1 “Resilient Infrastructures”.

To ensure a balanced portfolio covering the different climate risks as identified in the Mission Implementation Plan and to maximize the footprint across all the different biogeographical areas[[ As defined by the Habitat Directive Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 and the related Nature2000 legislation and as indicated by the EEA: Biogeographical regions — European Environment Agency (europa.eu): Alpine, Atlantic, Black Sea, Boreal, Continental, Macaronesian, Mediterranean, Pannonian, Steppic]], the best ranked proposals for each biogeographical area will be selected.