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Call: Preventing groundwater contamination and protecting its quality against harmful impacts of global and climate change

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Programme
Acronym HORIZON-CL6-ZEROPOLLUTION
Type of Fund Direct Management
Description of programme
"Horizon Europe - Cluster 6 - Destination 4: Clean Environment and Zero Pollution"

Anthropogenic pollution undermines the integrity of Earth ecosystems and severely affects natural resources essential for human life. Keeping our planet clean and our ecosystems healthy will not only contribute to addressing the climate crisis but also help regenerate biodiversity, ensure the sustainability of primary production activities and safeguard the well-being of humankind. In line with the objectives of the European Green Deal, particularly its zero pollution ambition, and the 2030 Climate Target Plan, and other relevant EU legislation[[cf. European Green Deal deliverables farm to fork strategy, biodiversity strategy, soil strategy, but also bioeconomy strategy, marine strategy, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development etc., the Missions on Soil Health and Food as well as on Ocean, seas and waters, etc.]], this destination seeks to halt and prevent pollution by focussing the work programme 2021-2022 on fresh and marine waters, soils, air, including from nitrogen and phosphorus emissions, as well as on the environmental performance and sustainability of processes in the bio-based systems. Synergies with other clusters (notably 1 and 5), relevant destinations as well as missions and partnerships will be exploited.

Halting emissions of pollutants to soils and waters is of fundamental significance for the planet. Diffuse emissions of pollutants from land and urban sources, including atmospheric depositions, are a major stress factor for terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, threatening the quality of surface waters and aquifers, and affecting soil quality and all water-dependent sectors that require a holistic understanding of the pollution sources, key vectors and pathways. Projected impacts of climate change will alter, and notably reduce, the hydrological flows in many parts of Europe, while eutrophication could be exacerbated by increasing temperatures. Climate change and increasing water demand will exert significant pressures on surface and groundwater quality[[Member States identified that diffuse pollution is still a significant pressure that affects 35 % of the area of groundwater bodies, while quality standards (pesticides, herbicides…) were exceeded in 15 % of the groundwater bodies]], notably where the combined effect of water table depletion and sea level rise will endanger the integrity of coastal aquifers and groundwater quality. This is due to saline water intrusion or extreme events (e.g. higher tides, storm surges or inland flooding events), which will put coastal wetlands and reservoirs, estuaries and ecosystems at risk. While recognising its essential role in aquatic ecosystems functioning and services, the sediments originating mostly from run-off and erosion are likely the major source of physical pollution of water bodies (excessive turbidity, impacts of deposition, accumulation of litter and debris) and contribute to a large extent to chemical and biological pollution of receiving waters. Beside land use practises, the increasing intensity and variability of precipitation will exacerbate erosion risks, affect the deposition and transport of sediments and could lead to a remobilisation of legacy contaminants and further deteriorate the quality of soils, sediments and water bodies, including aquifers, estuaries and coastal areas, and of their ecosystem function and services.

Keeping nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) cycles in balance is another crucial challenge. N and P flows from anthropogenic sources, mostly from excessive or inefficient input of fertilisers (including manure, sewage sludge, etc.) in agriculture, currently exceed planetary boundaries. Their leaching and run-off negatively affect soil biodiversity, pH, organic matter concentration and carbon sequestration capacity, and cause the eutrophication of water bodies while ammonia and nitrous oxide emissions affect air quality and climate. As all environmental media are concerned, a systemic approach is necessary to limit N/P emissions from different sources, for example through the deployment of alternative fertilising products, and considering regional conditions (geography, climate zones, economy activities, soil properties, eco-system condition, agricultural practices, governance structures etc.), and to bring N/P flows back within safe ecological boundaries.

Protecting drinking water and managing water pollution in rural settlements, and in increasingly dense urban areas requires innovative and holistic approaches at city/catchment level to ensure water quality, resilient to the impacts of climate and global change, by considering different spatial and temporal scales and contexts, aging water infrastructures, as well as pollution derived from point and non-point sources, and natural/human-made disasters. Protective measures should consider current and future land use, environmental needs and socioeconomic interests as essential elements for improving water quality and its management and governance. Re-emerging pollutants, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) or mercury, and contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) in water bodies may have impacts on ecological and human health, and some are not well regulated under existing environmental legislation. Sources of these pollutants include e.g. industry, agriculture, urban runoff, household products, coatings, paints and pharmaceuticals that are normally disposed of to sewage treatment plants and subsequently discharged into water bodies. Micro-pollutants, plastics, pathogens and CECs, individually or combined, represent a concern for a safe and good quality drinking water supply. Increasing water temperatures, notably due to climate change could deteriorate the quality of aquatic ecosystems and drinking water sources by favouring the conditions for enhanced eutrophication as well as pathogen development or the spread of invasive species. Emerging concerns are also growing at the level of drinking water treatment and distribution, notably in relation with disinfection operations and possible harmful effects of by-products and metabolites.

Addressing pollution on seas and ocean is a prerequisite for a healthy planet. The ocean is being polluted and destroyed due to the release of substances or energy in marine waters which initiate a range of subsequent effects. According to a new European Environment Agency report, all four regional seas in Europe have a large-scale contamination problem, ranging from 96% of the assessed area in the Baltic Sea and 91% in the Black Sea, to 87% in the Mediterranean and 75% in the North-East Atlantic Ocean. The main sources of pollution include industrial, agricultural and municipal waste runoff, other human activities (e.g. transport), underwater noise, light, atmospheric deposition, etc. into marine waters.

Increasing the environmental performance and sustainability of processes and products plays a significant role in keeping our planet clean. Environmental pollution resulting from human activity is detrimental to ecosystems at different functional levels, representing, also, an important economic burden for society. Circular bio-based systems, including biotechnology, have the potential to substantially contribute to the European Green Deal objectives, provided that they are developed sustainably and systemically aiming at mitigating the climate change and its impacts, increasing resource efficiency and circularity, preserving and restoring ecosystems services, natural resources, air/water/soil quality and biodiversity. Indicators of such sustainability are needed, building on dynamic perspectives at scales ranging, in space, from planetary to local ecosystems and, in time, from next decade to the end of century and beyond. Environmental impacts should be traced along value chains and trades to enable responsible production and consumption.

Expected impacts

Pollution must be halted and eliminated to guarantee clean and healthy soils, air, fresh and marine water for all. To reach this objective, it will be paramount to advance the knowledge of pollution sources and pathways to enable preventive measures, improve monitoring and control, apply planetary boundaries in practice and introduce effective remediation methods.

Proposals for topics under this destination should set out a credible pathway to contribute to the aforementioned goal to achieve a clean environment and zero pollution, and more specifically to one or several of the following impacts:

  • Advanced understanding of diffuse and point sources of water pollution in a global and climate change context, enabling novel solutions to protect water bodies, aquatic ecosystems and soil functionality, and further enhancing water quality and its management for safe human and ecological use, while fostering the EU’s and Associated Countries’ position and role in the global water scene.
  • Balanced N/P flows well within safe ecological boundaries at EU and Associated Countries, regional and local scale, contribute to restoring ecosystems.
  • Clean, unpolluted seas in the EU and Associated Countries as a result of successful behavioural, social-economic, demographic, governance and green-blue transitions.
  • Circular bio-based systems reversing climate change, restoring biodiversity and protecting air, water and soil quality along supply chain of biological feedstock and industrial value chains, within the EU and Associated Countries and across borders.
  • Innovative biotechnology creating zero-pollution bio-based solutions.

When considering their impact, proposals also need to assess their compliance with the “Do No Significant Harm” principle[[as per Article 17 of Regulation (EU) No 2020/852 on the establishment of a framework to facilitate sustainable investment (EU Taxonomy Regulation)]] according to which the research and innovation activities of the project should not be supporting or carrying out activities that make a significant harm to any of the six environmental objectives of the EU Taxonomy Regulation.

Actions should develop scientifically robust and transparent approaches and methodologies, building on achievements from previous research activities, where possible and appropriate. To ensure deployment, trustworthiness, swift and wide adoption by user communities, and to support EU and national policy-makers, they should adopt high standards of transparency and openness, going beyond ex-post documentation of results and extending to aspects such as assumptions, models and data quality during the life of projects.

Topics under this destination will address the following impact areas of the Horizon Europe strategic plan for 2021-2024: “Climate change mitigation and adaptation”; “Enhancing ecosystems and biodiversity on land and in waters”; “Good health and high-quality accessible healthcare”; “Clean and healthy air, water and soil”; “A resilient EU prepared for emerging threats”; and “Inclusive growth and new job opportunities”.

Link Link to Programme
Call
Preventing groundwater contamination and protecting its quality against harmful impacts of global and climate change
Description of call
"Preventing groundwater contamination and protecting its quality against harmful impacts of global and climate change"

Expected Outcome:

In line with the European Green Deal’s zero pollution ambition, successful proposals will contribute to halting and preventing pollution of freshwater and soils, and consequently also protecting biodiversity, as addressed by several impacts under Destination ‘Clean environment and zero pollution’, in particular “Advanced understanding of diffuse and point sources of water pollution in a global and climate change context, enabling novel solutions to protect water bodies, aquatic ecosystems and soil functionality, and further enhancing water quality and its management for safe human and ecological use, while fostering the European position and role in the global water scene.”

Project results are expected to contribute to some of the following expected outcomes:

  • Wider use of an enhanced knowledge base and better understanding of pollution sources, pathways and impacts, including surface hydrology, aquifers and receiving water bodies, as well as the synergistic effects of multiple stressors on groundwater quality.
  • Implement advanced prevention and mitigation strategies to protect groundwater against pollution induced by global and climate change, including anticipative approaches preparing for future or emerging challenges.
  • Apply effective risk assessment and risk management strategies enabling early warning systems and delivering ready-made outcomes for decision-making and governance.
  • Deploy innovative monitoring strategies, including advanced sensors, tracers and analytical methods, and integration of IT tools/platforms and advanced modelling.
  • Broad uptake of advanced knowledge, breakthrough solutions and innovative technologies to enhance the competitiveness of the EU water sector and foster the EU’s position and role in the global water scene.
  • Increasing the EU scientific and technological base on measures to manage groundwater quality and providing evidence and guidance for policy-making and implementation.
  • Science and evidence-based implementation of the European Green Deal and the Sustainable Development Goals, notably the SDG 6 “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”.

Scope:

The European Union has made noticeable progress in terms of reducing concentrations of nutrients in groundwater and in rivers through the implementation of dedicated policy measures. However, Member States identified that diffuse pollution is still a significant pressure that affects 35% of the area of groundwater bodies, while quality standards (pesticides, herbicides, etc.) were exceeded in 15% of the groundwater bodies studied. Climate change and increasing water demand will exert significant pressures on groundwater quality, notably where the combined effect of reduced hydrological flows, water table depletion and sea level rise endanger the integrity of coastal aquifers and groundwater quality due to saline water intrusion. Extreme events like higher tides, storm surges and inland flooding events, and consequent pollutant and pathogen runoff, will put at risk wetlands and reservoirs, estuaries and ecosystems, jeopardising an efficient and qualitatively good groundwater recharge. Rising water tables in urban and rural areas, caused by e.g. higher sea level, changing water use or variable precipitation patterns, could potentially affect pollution sources (sewage, runoff infiltration, dilution of soil pollutants, salinization, etc.) and deteriorate the quality of groundwater.

Additional knowledge is needed to understand the synergistic effects and risks of multiple stressors and pollutants on groundwater quality to better evaluate the impacts of global and climate change, particularly in highly vulnerable areas affected by diffuse pollution, anthropogenic activities and/or water table fluctuations. Actions in this field should aim to identify and assess sources and pathways of groundwater pollution to inform risk management plans at basin/regional scales, with particular consideration of aquifer recharge with reclaimed water and persistent pollutants.

Further developments are expected in terms of cost-efficient monitoring strategies, which could include new tracers and sensors, increased sampling and analytical capacity, as well as integrating IT advances and geophysical modelling.

Proposals in this area should assess possible options and anticipate novel strategies to protect groundwater quality by considering the harmful effects of and threats from climate change. Actions in this field should focus on preventive measures and consider technological and non-technological solutions, and should engage with policy and decision-making bodies.

In general, the participation of academia, research organisations, utilities, industry and regulators is strongly advised, as well as civil society engagement whenever necessary, also aiming to broaden the dissemination and exploitation routes and to better assess the innovation potential of developed solutions and strategies.

If appropriate, applicants are advised to seek complementarities and synergies, while avoiding duplication and overlap, with relevant actions funded under Horizon 2020 calls, as well as targeted topics supported in the last Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe calls, addressing micro/nano-plastics, persistent and mobile pollutants, such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), pharmaceuticals and contaminants of emerging concerns (CECs), pathogens and antimicrobial resistance.

In order to better address some or all of the expected outcomes, international cooperation is strongly encouraged.

In this topic the integration of the gender dimension (sex and gender analysis) in research and innovation content is not a mandatory requirement.

Link Link to Call
Thematic Focus Research & Innovation, Technology Transfer & Exchange, Capacity Building, Cooperation Networks, Institutional Cooperation, Clustering, Development Cooperation, Economic Cooperation, Climate, Climate Change, Environment & Biodiversity, Circular Economy, Sustainability, Natural Resources, Agriculture & Forestry, Fishery, Food, Green Technologies & Green Deal, Administration & Governance, Competitiveness, SME, Health, Social Affairs, Sports, Equal Rights, Human Rights, People with Disabilities, Social Inclusion, Disaster Prevention, Resiliance, Risk Management
Funding area EU Member States
Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs)
Origin of Applicant EU Member States
Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs)
Eligible applicants Research Institution, Small and Medium Sized Enterprises, SMEs (between 10 and 249 employees), NGO / NPO, University, Enterprise (more than 250 employees or not defined), Public Services, Microenterprises (fewer than 10 employees), Start Up Company
Applicant details

eligible non-EU countries:

  • countries associated to Horizon Europe
At the date of the publication of the work programme, there are no countries associated to Horizon Europe. Considering the Union’s interest to retain, in principle, relations with the countries associated to Horizon 2020, most third countries associated to Horizon 2020 are expected to be associated to Horizon Europe with an intention to secure uninterrupted continuity between Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe. In addition, other third countries can also become associated to Horizon Europe during the programme. For the purposes of the eligibility conditions, applicants established in Horizon 2020 Associated Countries or in other third countries negotiating association to Horizon Europe will be treated as entities established in an Associated Country, if the Horizon Europe association agreement with the third country concerned applies at the time of signature of the grant agreement.

  • low-and middle-income countries

Legal entities which are established in countries not listed above will be eligible for funding if provided for in the specific call conditions, or if their participation is considered essential for implementing the action by the granting authority.

Specific cases:

  • Affiliated entities - Affiliated entities are eligible for funding if they are established in one of the countries listed above.
  • EU bodies - Legal entities created under EU law may also be eligible to receive funding, unless their basic act states otherwise.
  • International organisations - International European research organisations are eligible to receive funding. Unless their participation is considered essential for implementing the action by the granting authority, other international organisations are not eligible to receive funding. International organisations with headquarters in a Member State or Associated Country are eligible to receive funding for ‘Training and mobility’actions and when provided for in the specific call conditions.
Project Partner Yes
Project Partner Details

Unless otherwise provided for in the specific call conditions , legal entities forming a consortium are eligible to participate in actions provided that the consortium includes:

  • at least one independent legal entity established in a Member State;and
  • at least two other independent legal entities, each established in different Member States or Associated Countries.
Call opens 28.10.2021
Call closes 15.02.2022
Further info

Proposal page limits and layout:

The application form will have two parts:

  • Part A to be filled in directly online  (administrative information, summarised budget, call-specific questions, etc.)
  • Part B to be downloaded from the Portal submission system, completed and re-uploaded as a PDF in the system

Page limit - Part B: 45 pages

Type of Funding Grants
Financial details
Expected EU contribution per projectThe Commission estimates that an EU contribution of between EUR 2.00 and 4.00 million would allow these outcomes to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of a proposal requesting different amounts.
Indicative budgetThe total indicative budget for the topic is EUR 12.00 million.
Typ of ActionResearch and Innovation Actions (RIA)
Funding rate100%

Activities are expected to achieve TRL 5 by the end of the project.
Submission Proposals must be submitted electronically via the Funding & Tenders Portal Electronic Submission System. Paper submissions are NOTpossible.

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