Back to News & Resources overview
Speakers corner 31 March 2022

A new world has emerged – The role of R&I in times of crisis

On the morning of Thursday, 24 February, those still sleeping were shaken out of bed. Some of us, literally. A long decade of peace in Europe was interrupted. The whole existing politico-economic paradigm is being redefined together with the shifting of the geopolitical order we have known since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Russian aggression toward Ukraine signals the profound reconfiguration of a new world. The slowdown of globalisation, sometimes dubbed “slowbalisation”, that started last decade and gathered pace with the intensification of the US-China rivalry, went further with the outbreak of the Covid pandemic. The war will now accelerate the restructuring of international trade, the reshoring of critical supply chains, and the reconfiguration of the world into regional blocs.

With the looming energy crisis already unfolding when the war knocked on European doors, this new paradigm has made the urgency of attaining Europe’s Strategic Autonomy much more tangible. Focusing on Europe’s energy supply, we will need to redesign our century-long dependence on gas and other fossil fuels in just a few years and cut short our reliance on Russian resources while making sure we do not create other overcritical dependencies.

However, if only possible, the war has had perhaps one unexpected positive effect on the EU: pushed together by the catastrophic events unfolding, European leaders came up with a plan to avoid the impasse of a potentially more substantial and generalised crisis. The REPowerEU Communication is solid proof that European cohesion can go the extra mile when all actors decide to cooperate. Cutting our dependency on Russian gas is not a simple challenge, but the first brick has been laid down.

The provisions of REPowerEU are radical and must be implemented at a speed and scale never seen before. This process will take a toll on politicians, industry, researchers, and citizens alike. A revolution of this magnitude requires us to break the status quo and make a reality what, for some, is an illusion. The EU has a track record of bold decisions in historical times, and it is time to prove this once more. Jean Monnet could never be better inspired when he said: “Europe will be forged in crises, and will be the sum of the solutions adopted for those crises.”

More than ever, Europe must firmly rely on the lights of science in this delicate transition period. EERA needs to closely examine its role in this unprecedented scenario that calls for radical action. The voices of those experts working on technologies, concepts and approaches for making possible a sustainable society where humans and the natural world can thrive together must be louder than ever. But not only. Action must be the motto of this crucial decade.

No one will remain unaffected in these crises, and time is paused for “comfort” and “business as usual” approaches. We must all individually and collectively rethink our role. “Workplans” must be transformed into “war plans”. And in this sense, EERA, as representative of the European energy research community, is called to rethink its societal role of being a catalyser for developing scientific knowledge. Not only to address longer-term challenges but also to respond to real-life crises that call for immediate radical solutions. In this historical moment, the EERA community should put to the service of society its unique scientific capabilities to help plan immediate and short-term action that preserve Europe’s long-term goals.

Those areas where the EERA expertise could be strengthened are numerous. They notably include analysing those bottlenecks and barriers hampering a much-accelerated deployment of renewable energy sources, energy balancing which studies how the EU energy system will accommodate a fast-changing energy mix with higher penetration of variable energy sources... It must advise how redesigned consumption patterns and efficiency measures can moderate energy demand. It must inform how market models and policies can be revised to cope with the new energy paradigm while protecting the most vulnerable. Moreover, it should assess how those policies designed for immediate social and economic impact affect their long-term sustainability and convergence with the EU’s plan for 2050.

More than ever, in this highly emotional period, science must prevail to provide a robust, open and unbiased framework for designing the best strategies to address the complex challenges lying ahead. As the EU energy research community representative, the EERA community is being mobilised to advise on how to best reach the goals set forth by REPowerEU. This is our once in a lifetime chance to live up to what we are being praised for.