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Call: What else is out there? Exploring the connection between biodiversity, ecosystems services, pandemics and epidemic risk

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Programme
Acronym HE-CL6-BIODIV
Type of Fund Direct Management
Description of programme
"Horizon Europe - Cluster 6 - Destination 1: Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services"

The EU biodiversity strategy for 2030 is a cornerstone of the European Green Deal that will put Europe’s biodiversity on the path to recovery by 2030, for the benefit of people, the climate and the planet. It will also prepare the EU to take a leading role in the upcoming international negotiations on a new global framework to halt biodiversity loss. With the Green Deal’s ‘do no significant harm’ vision, all EU policies will become more biodiversity-friendly, focusing more on the sustainable use of ecosystems, supporting the recovery in a post-pandemic world[[COM/2020/380 EU biodiversity strategy for 2030: Bringing nature back into our lives]]. This policy vision is fully supported in the strategic plan of Horizon Europe for 2021-2024 in its first key strategic orientation ‘Protecting and restoring ecosystems and biodiversity and managing sustainably natural resources on land and at sea, and achieving climate neutrality and adaptation’. Consequently, Destination ‘Biodiversity and ecosystem services’ intends to achieve the following expected impact from Cluster 6 ‘Biodiversity is back on a path to recovery, and ecosystems and their services are preserved and sustainably restored on land, inland water and at sea through improved knowledge and innovation’. All actions funded under this destination must therefore help to deliver this main impact.

Research and innovation is key to delivering results that will have an important impact on biodiversity, food, health, water and climate, which are all interconnected, and to achieving the goal of healthy and resilient ecosystems by 2030. It will also enable transformational change engaging European society and economy and their global impacts, making decisions more biodiversity-friendly. R&I will support policy targets, develop nature-based solutions[[Nature-based solutions are “inspired and supported by nature, which are cost-effective, simultaneously provide environmental, social and economic benefits and help build resilience. Such solutions bring more, and more diverse, nature and natural features and processes into cities, landscapes and seascapes, through locally adapted, resource-efficient and systemic interventions. Hence, nature-based solutions must benefit biodiversity and support the delivery of a range of ecosystem services.”]] and holistic approaches to address the main causes of biodiversity loss, particularly in connection to production systems, bringing all sectors together to be integrated in ecosystem-based management. Investments in R&I will help to protect and restore the integrity of terrestrial, aquatic and marine ecosystems, currently under multiple pressures, and protect and restore their capacity to deliver a wide range of essential services. Under Horizon Europe, a long-term strategic research agenda for biodiversity will also be developed.

The sixth mass extinction is taking place: one million species are at risk of extinction, and the degradation of ecosystems severely affects the fabric of life that enables the survival of humankind[[IPBES global assessment (2019). Summary for policy-makers.]]. None of the globally agreed targets of the 2011-2020 strategic plan for biodiversity has been fully achieved[[United Nation’s 5th Global Biodiversity Outlook (2020).]], with the biodiversity crisis even deepening. Our knowledge on biodiversity status, pressures, impacts and responses needs to be improved, requiring even basic taxonomic work in certain ecosystems. Understanding biodiversity decline and addressing its main drivers through data-driven science, integrated multidisciplinary knowledge, new tools, models and scenarios, will support Europe’s policy needs and boost global biodiversity science. Solutions for preventing and addressing the individual and cumulative effect of direct drivers of biodiversity loss (land use change, overexploitation, climate change, invasive species, pollution) need to be further developed and made available to policy makers and practitioners, such as through the new EC Knowledge Centre for Biodiversity[[https://knowledge4policy.ec.europa.eu/biodiversity_en]]. For more impact on society and economic sectors, citizen science and crowdsourcing also require big data analysis, artificial intelligence, social sciences, communications and policy tools.

Valuing and restoring biodiversity and ecosystem services is necessary to develop tools to guide decisions, inform and implement policies on the environment, water, health, climate, disaster risk reduction, agriculture, forests and other land use types, protected areas management, the sustainable bioeconomy, the blue economy, maritime and cross-sectoral spatial planning, and responsible business practices. The continued degradation of the ecosystems and their services affects biodiversity and climate change[[https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-020-0738-8]], and increases the risk of severe ecological disasters and pandemics. The European Green Deal and its biodiversity strategy call for urgent action to restore damaged aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems in order to increase biodiversity and deliver a wide range of ecosystem services.

The contribution of ecosystems to human wellbeing and the economy is not properly accounted for in market transactions, or in planning and investment decisions: the social and economic co-benefits of healthy ecosystems are often disregarded. Natural capital accounts need to be developed and mainstreamed. Investments in R&I will also lay the ground for scaling up and speeding up the implementation of technological, societal and nature-based solutions (NBS). NBS support vital ecosystem services, biodiversity and biomass provision, as well as access to drinking water, clean soil, improved livelihoods, healthy diets and food safety and security from sustainable food systems. NBS deployment will also create green jobs and build resilience to climate change and natural disasters. Citizens, authorities, businesses, social partners and the research community must be engaged at local, regional, national and European levels.

Managing biodiversity in primary production: Biodiversity is the basis for sustainable and resilient agriculture, fisheries, aquaculture and forestry, as also recognised in the farm to fork and biodiversity strategies under the Green Deal. With diverse genetic resources, it is possible to use in primary production plants and animals that are adapted to different environments, ecosystems and meet diverse needs. Furthermore, the interplay between species below and above ground delivers important ecosystem services, such as pollination, soil fertility, pest and risk control. Despite these recognised benefits, current production systems tend to be specialised and rely on a limited number of crops, breeds and forest tree species whose genetic basis is narrow. Reversing this trend and increasing their resilience is critical and of global concern in particular in the current context of accelerated climate change and a growing population whose production and consumption footprint is increasing.

Enabling transformative change [[Transformative change has been defined by IPBES as “A fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values”. IPBES global assessment (2019). Summary for policy-makers.]] in biodiversity: Science (IPBES and IPCC) and Policy (the global post-2020 biodiversity framework and the EU biodiversity strategy) clearly underline that biodiversity loss can only be successfully addressed if transformative changes are initiated, accelerated, and up-scaled. There is however hardly any knowledge on potentials and challenges arising from transitions focused on biodiversity. System-level change of this kind starts with social innovation in the form of, for example, regulations, incentives, local and participatory processes, and through the introduction of new technologies, new production processes, or new consumer products, which change how socio-technical and socio-ecological systems operate and impact their environment. Such transformative change must decrease the impacts of indirect drivers of biodiversity loss, which are in turn, underpinned by societal values and behaviours. Indirect drivers of biodiversity loss are understood to mean here: production and consumption patterns, human population dynamics and trends (including their footprints), trade, technological innovations, and local to global governance (including financing). Research and innovation can enable these transformative changes to happen and initiate processes, behaviour changes and actions which are transforming the way we impact biodiversity. Socio-economic and multidisciplinary research, including on the role of education, will develop knowledge and tools to understand the role of transformative change for biodiversity policy making, address the indirect drivers for biodiversity loss, and accelerate transformative changes in our society that are relevant to biodiversity.

Interconnecting biodiversity research and supporting policies refers to the establishment of the European Partnership ‘Rescuing biodiversity to safeguard life on Earth’ and to the support to other science-policy interfaces. The European partnership on biodiversity[[https://www.biodiversa.org/1759]] will connect national, local and European research, innovation and environmental programmes, combining resources in support of one goal, i.e. that by 2030 biodiversity in Europe is back on the path to recovery. It will co-develop multidisciplinary research and innovation programmes with stakeholders, set up a European network of coordinated observatories for biodiversity monitoring, and implement a broad range of activities to increase the relevance, impact and visibility of EU research and innovation in tackling the biodiversity crisis in line with the EU biodiversity strategy for 2030.

Science-policy interfaces on biodiversity and nature-based solutions have made good progress in recent years[[Good leverage effects have been achieved, notably through EKLIPSE, Oppla, the NBS platform, the EU4IPBES support action 2018-2021.]], and must be stepped up to achieve targeted impacts on biodiversity-relevant policies, that can in turn be used as structured policy input into the research cycle. These interfaces are also key to guiding biodiversity governance, and to implement the EU Green Deal and international conventions[[In particular, the UN Convention on Biodiversity, and the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030]]. In line with the Commission priority 'A stronger Europe in the world', the EU must take and demonstrate leadership in this field, notably by increasing its support to IPBES[[The Intergovernmental science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services]] -to bring it up to the same level as the IPCC-, and to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Besides economic support, this also includes efforts to create synergies and cooperation between IPBES, regional Multilateral Environmental Agreements and other relevant research communities to ensure a full coverage of all relevant aspects of biodiversity and ecosystem services in order to underpin the full scope of the post 2020 global biodiversity framework.

All topics will directly contribute to the EU biodiversity strategy for 2030 and to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 13, 14, 15, 17.

Several missions will also help to achieve biodiversity-related impacts, notably in the areas of ‘Adaptation to climate change including societal transformation’, ‘Climate-neutral and smart cities’, ‘Ocean, seas and waters’ and ‘Soil health and food’.

Expected impact

Proposals for topics under this destination should set out a credible pathway contributing to Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, and more specifically to one or more of the following impacts:

  • Biodiversity decline, its main direct drivers and their interrelations are better understood and addressed through the production, integration and use of open data, knowledge, education and training, innovative technologies, solutions and control measures, in collaboration with European and international initiatives.
  • Biodiversity and natural capital are integrated into public and business decision-making at all levels for the protection and restoration of ecosystems and their services; science base is provided for planning and expanding protected areas, and sustainably managing ecosystems.
  • Europe builds competitive sustainability and tackles climate change and natural disasters through the deployment of nature-based solutions, including ecosystem-based disaster risk-reduction approaches fully reaping their economic, social and environmental benefits for a green recovery across all European regions.
  • The interrelations between biodiversity, health, food, soil, water, air and climate are better known and communicated to citizens and policy-makers; in particular, risks associated with microbiomes and biodiversity-friendly prevention/mitigation measures, and opportunities for biodiversity recovery are identified.
  • Practices in agriculture and forestry support biodiversity and the provision of other ecosystems services based on a) a better understanding of functional biodiversity (above and below ground), b) effective knowledge and innovation systems and c) ready-to use solutions for land managers, adapted to specific conditions.
  • Access to a wider range of crops and breeds with a broadened genetic base is improved in line with global biodiversity commitments by gaining greater insight into the characteristics of genetic resources and by enhancing capacities for their preservation and use in breeding and in primary production (farming, forestry, fisheries, aquaculture). More (bio)diverse, resilient production systems will have positive knock-on effects on value chains, consumption, healthy diets and the wider, non-managed biodiversity.
  • Approaches for enabling transformative changes in society for biodiversity and ecosystems recovery are identified, tested and implemented in policy, governance, law business and society; all indirect drivers of biodiversity loss are addressed and ‘do not harm’ biodiversity policies become a mainstream part of all sectors.
  • Biodiversity research is interconnected across Europe, supporting and enhancing the ambition of national, EU and international environmental policies and conventions.

When considering the impact of the proposals, 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)]] has to be assessed. Also it has to be ensured that the research and innovation activities do not cause a significant harm to any of the six environmental objectives of the EU Taxonomy Regulation.

The portfolio of actions under this destination will have impacts in the following areas: “Enhancing ecosystems and biodiversity on land and in waters”; “Climate change mitigation and adaptation”; “Clean and healthy air, water and soil”; “Sustainable food systems from farm to fork on land and sea”; and “A resilient EU prepared for emerging threats”.

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Call
What else is out there? Exploring the connection between biodiversity, ecosystems services, pandemics and epidemic risk
Description of call
"What else is out there? Exploring the connection between biodiversity, ecosystems services, pandemics and epidemic risk"

Expected Outcome:

A successful proposal will contribute to European Green Deal priorities and the EU biodiversity strategy for 2030, whilst supporting the EU’s response to the coronavirus and other zoonotic outbreaks, in the context of EU’s goal of leading just digital, economic and ecological transitions that will leave no one behind, One Health approaches, and the future European Health Union. It will explore the evolution and spread of microbiomes in the wild and their relationship with biodiversity loss, ecosystems dynamics and epidemics risk, in a broad societal, climate change and global context. By doing so, the interrelations between biodiversity, health and environment (e.g. climate and land use) will be better known and communicated to citizens and policy-makers. In particular, risks associated with microbiomes and biodiversity-friendly prevention/mitigation/restoration measures, and opportunities for biodiversity recovery will be identified. This topic is also expected to have impacts related to ‘Climate change mitigation and adaptation’ and ‘A resilient EU prepared for emerging threats’.

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

  • The evolution and spread of microbiomes in the wild and their relationship with biodiversity loss and ecosystems dynamics is understood and modelled, within the broader context of socio-economic driving forces, climate change, public health, and increasing resilience.
  • Epidemics risks are understood, mapped and forecasted on the basis of relationships between factors such as land use, ecology, climate, biodiversity, and socio-economic factors, including wildlife trade, that determine the pace at which new pathogens emerge and then spread once transmission between humans occurs.
  • Contribution to ecosystem services: use of novel technologies for better land use and environmental management, increasing (or at least preserving) biodiversity under unfavourable environmental/climatic conditions.
  • Sustainable prevention/mitigation measures improving microbiomes and biodiversity conservation/recovery are proposed.
  • Molecular and phylogenetic characterisation of potential emerging and novel pathogens and their hosts in both natural and human-modified areas for use as pre-leads in future vaccines, antimicrobials and other prevention strategies.
  • Pathogen detection and surveillance strategies, focusing on human populations at risk but also on potential reservoirs and vectors, based on rapid, on-site, genomic tools allowing a fast and early response when facing potential outbreaks.
  • New multidisciplinary collaborations that embody the One Health/EcoHealth concept are active and efficient as a way to prevent pandemics, sustain biodiversity, promote human, animal and ecosystem health and nature conservation, as well as support the needed transformative change.
  • Effective strategies to increase awareness and participation of indigenous and local communities in pandemics prevention are in place: risks management and opportunities for biodiversity conservation/recovery are built together.

Scope:

Wildlife microbiomes, whether symbiotic, commensal or pathogenic, and their potential to spread by crossing interspecies barriers, eventually reaching humans via transitional interfaces (e.g. peri-urban, farming areas), are still largely unknown. Complex links between increased human-mediated disturbance, land-use change, natural habitat loss/degradation/fragmentation, climate change and biodiversity loss have all been linked to increases in the increased prevalence and risk of zoonotic disease for a variety of pathogens, mostly driven by human activities that modify the environment or spread pathogens into new ecological niches. Zoonotic diseases are significant threats to human health, with vector-borne diseases accounting for approximately 17 per cent of all infectious diseases and causing an estimated 700,000 deaths globally in a normal year, which can more than double in pandemic years.

The magnitude and direction of altered disease incidence due to anthropogenic disturbance differ globally and between ecosystems. Some described mechanisms and drivers that especially affect infectious disease risk are habitat alteration (e.g. deforestation, urbanisation), depletion of predators, biological invasion, host transfer, biodiversity change, human-driven genetic changes, bushmeat hunting and consumption, environmental contamination by infectious agents, international exchanges, trade, etc.

This call aims to recover biodiversity and ecosystems services whilst predicting and preventing future pandemics and epidemic outbreaks, especially in tropical areas and biodiversity hotspots, through collaboration between environmental (including climate), ecological, biomedical and social sciences. Projects should map, identify and characterise (e.g. with molecular techniques) potential emerging pathogens and their hosts/vectors in both carefully selected natural and human-modified areas, explore the relationship of biodiversity and ecosystems dynamics with microbiomes’ evolution and spread, within the broader context of socio-economic driving forces, climate change, public health and animal health.

Pathogen discovery, prophylaxis and operational surveillance strategies should be developed to search for new potential pathogens, within natural and human-modified ecosystems and hosts as well as in cases of human infectious diseases of unknown aetiology, to prevent, detect and contain their outbreaks. Risk maps and predictive models should be built based on development trends, the presence of probable host/bridge species, environmental and socio-economic factors.

The impacts of land use and climate change on biodiversity, ecosystem services and pandemics should be also taken into account, as well as any recent IPBES reports on the links between biodiversity and pandemics.

Ecologists, infectious-disease researchers, medical doctors, veterinarians, environmental, public-health and animal-health experts, socio-economic stakeholders and the private sector, particularly SMEs, as well as authorities, civil and political entities, should contribute among others to devise an early warning mechanism, track environmental change, assess the risk of pathogens crossing over and reduce risky human activities.

Efforts to preserve/restore biodiversity should address the economic and socio-cultural factors that drive natural habitat alteration and the rural poor’s dependency on hunting and trading wild animals. International cooperation with non-EU countries where new pathogens have emerged is strongly encouraged. Projects should ensure availability and interoperability of their data with the EC Knowledge Centre for Biodiversity and earmark the necessary resources for cooperation. Collaboration with the Biodiversity Partnership (HORIZON-CL6-2021-BIODIV-02-01) and creating links to its activities is expected.

This topic should involve the effective contribution of social sciences and humanities (SSH) disciplines.

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Thematic Focus Research & Innovation, Technology Transfer & Exchange, Capacity Building, Cooperation Networks, Institutional Cooperation, Clustering, Development Cooperation, Economic Cooperation, Digitisation, ICT, Telecommunication, Green Technologies & Green Deal, Climate, Climate Change, Environment & Biodiversity, Agriculture & Forestry, Fishery, Food, Circular Economy, Sustainability, Natural Resources, Administration & Governance, Rural & Peripheral Development, Disaster Prevention, Resiliance, Risk Management, Regional Development & Regional Planning
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, International Organization, Small and Medium Sized Enterprises, SMEs (between 10 and 249 employees), Microenterprises (fewer than 10 employees), NGO / NPO, Public Services, Other, Start Up Company, University, Enterprise (more than 250 employees or not defined), Education and Training Centres
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 22.06.2021
Call closes 06.10.2021
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 4.00 and 6.00 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 3-5 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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