In a Nutshell
Horizon Europe is the European Union’s key funding programme for research and innovation. It follows and builds upon Horizon 2020. Totalling a budget of €95.5 billion for the period spanning from 2021 to 2027, it is a key instrument in tackling climate change, helping achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals and incentivising the competitiveness and growth of the EU.
Beyond EU members, the programme is a strong strategic tool for international cooperation in research and innovation. It opens the window for researchers across the world to team up with the EU through different forms of cooperation, including the association of three non-EU countries. 18 countries have association agreements, including New Zealand and the UK as the newest addition with reached political agreements (still pending formal adoption).
Substantive and well–targeted research and innovation support is key to fostering the maturation of nascent removal methods and to underpinning the progression towards the scale-up needed to reach climate neutrality goals in the EU. Carbon removal projects have received funding from Horizon Europe, especially within Pillar II (see Deep Dive section below). The support has been predominantly indirect and provided through calls with potential spillovers into removals, with a lower share of funding support for CDR directly. Broadening the understanding of removal methods and providing more targeted and sufficient support that strengthens the diverse family of removal methods will form a crucial part of Horizon’s approach to CDR in forthcoming work programmes.
What's on the Horizon?
- More countries are likely to finalise association agreements with Horizon Europe in the future. Negotiations with Morocco, Canada, the Republic of Korea, and Japan are at various stages of advancement. The UK and the EU have reached a political agreement on the UK’s association to the programme starting 1 January 2024. However, it is still pending for Council approval before it is formally adopted by the EU-UK Specialised Committee on Participation in Union Programmes. The same is true for New Zealand which is still pending Parliamentary consent.
- Building on the public consultation launched back in November 2022, the Commission will publish the Horizon Europe interim evaluation and consultation to inform the Horizon Europe Strategic Plan 2025-2027.
- In parallel, the expert group formed by the Commission’s latest call in May 2023 will meet between Q4 2023 – Q4 2024 and is expected to provide input on the programme’s evaluation. They will subsequently publish a report on how to amplify the impact of EU research and innovation programs and build on the conclusions of Horizon 2020.
- Further details on calls that are still open or yet-to-be-opened within the work programme 2023-2024 should be expected, as well as information on specific projects taken forward under each call. The work programmes for the following period should also be forthcoming.
A look at the various funding programmes of Horizon Europe
The program consists of four main pillars, each having dedicated funding and established working programmes that guide priorities for research and funding support:
Adapted from Horizon Europe: Investing to shape our future (2021)
- Pillar I – Excellent Science: aimed at strengthening the excellence and competitiveness of the EU’s scientific base. Three initiatives take the work forward:
- European Research Council: provides funding to researchers and their teams working on frontier science topics, with an emphasis on early-stage researchers.
- Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions: focuses on enhancing the knowledge and skills of researchers through mobility and training.
- Research infrastructures: ensures world-class research infrastructure in Europe that is integrated, interconnected, and available to the top researchers in Europe and across the world.
- Pilar II – Global Challenges and European Industrial Competitiveness: centred around 6 clusters that tackle key global challenges underpinning EU policies and the Sustainable Development Goals, with a total of €53.5 billion. The launch of “Missions”- specified in the main work programme – is also part of the strategic planning process. Each cluster publishes a number of projects and calls within the main work programme for the relevant year, following priorities in R&I for the EU. Horizon Europe sets out its own Technology Readiness Level (TRL) scale, and projects are set to support the path towards different stages of maturity through a diverse range of actions including Research & Innovation Actions (RIA), Innovation Actions (IA) and Coordination and Support Actions (CSA).
- Pilar III – Innovative Europe:
- European Innovation Council (EIC): promotes breakthroughs, deep tech and disruptive innovation with scale-up potential at the global level through all stages of innovation. It has two operating modes, an “Open” fund, holding no thematic preferences, and a “Challenge” fund, with specific thematic areas. Different technology readiness levels (TRL) are covered throughout its programmes:
- European Innovation Ecosystems (EIE): supports the creation of better-connected innovation ecosystems across Europe, at both national and regional levels.
- European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT): brings together business, education and research organisations.
- Widening Participation & Strengthening the European Research Area (ERA): composed of two initiatives:
- Widening participation and spreading excellence: aims to enhance research and innovation capabilities in countries that are currently falling behind according to the European Research Area policy goals.
- Reforming and enhancing the European R&I system: focuses on training researchers for successful R&I participation while prioritising networking, gender equality, ethics and integrity.
A look at carbon removal in Horizon Europe
Horizon Europe’s work programmes benefit a wide range of topics and technologies, especially in the six clusters of Pillar II. A close look at these programmes shows Horizon Europe has committed funding to CDR–related topics (directly and indirectly, including calls with a high potential for spillovers), with the majority being clustered in three areas ( 8 – Climate, Energy and Mobility; 9 – Food, Bioeconomy, Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment; and 12 – Missions) in both the 2021-2022 and 2023-2024 work programmes.
The number of calls indirectly related to carbon removals found in both periods, – ranging from CCS and CO2 infrastructure projects to digital solutions and Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) – is higher than those with a direct link to CDR, such as blue carbon, carbon sequestration and BECCS projects. For context, the funding allocated directly to CDR projects amounted to about 1.1% of the total budget for 2021-2022 and 0.9% of the 2023-2024 total budget. Direct and indirect funding for CDR reached 2.6% of the total 2023-2024 budget, instead of the 1.78% for 2021-2022.
Research & Innovation actions (RIA) are dominant for the first period, while both RIA and Innovation Actions (IA) lead within the latest work programme, although RIA are slightly more present (65.73% of all projects) in direct CDR funding. RIA projects have 100% of costs covered by the EU and are directed to new knowledge and exploration of technologies. IA projects are covered until 70% of costs and focus more on prototyping, testing, piloting, and large-scale product validation, and marker replication.
Knowledge and targeted funding
A number of projects in Horizon Europe can provide simultaneous benefits to Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU), and Carbon Removal (CDR). While there are sometimes overlaps between these families of methods – for example, shared CO2 transport and storage infrastructure – CDR is a much broader field and a set of methods on its own. The main work programme for 2023-2024, especially in Cluster 6, features more explicit mentions of carbon removals in the expected outcomes or scopes of the topics. However, the calls do not solely focus on CDR in most cases and are more likely to produce spillover effects that benefit CDR, such as providing CO2 transport infrastructure.
It is a positive step that the Commission has progressively included mentions of CDR within Horizon’s work programmes. To ensure that Horizon Europe delivers the appropriate support for CDR solutions going forward, a more sophisticated approach must be introduced that differentiates between CCUS and CDR methods, providing dedicated funding for different types of CDR as part of a portfolio approach.
Means in line with targets
There is substantial support for different types of removals given CDR’s status as a nascent field. Despite this support, the amount currently allocated to research into carbon removals is not nearly enough to meet the needs for accelerated development and deployment of CDR in light of the EU climate goals and the ambition for the EU to take the lead in this space globally. To deliver on these goals, the EU must commit to a significantly expanded budget for carbon removal, in line with the goals set out for the Green Deal, such as 310 MtCO2e of removals from the LULUCF sector, 55% emissions reductions by 2030, and climate neutrality by 2050.
Diverse and precise support
Horizon Europe strategic plans guide the direction of the investments in research and innovation. Ahead of the next iteration, the Strategic Plan 2025-2027 analysis looks at changes in EU policy and how the global context has changed since the first Plan (2021-2024), to determine if adjustments in terms of priority, directions and actions need to be made for this period. The analysis states that significant research is needed to bring down the cost of nature-based and industrial removals, and further identifies areas where the current efforts need to be reinforced, for example:
- Sustainable economic models that incorporate ways to measure and incentivise the co-benefits of carbon removal;
- Addressing challenges in soil, water, nutrient and biodiversity through e.g, carbon removal;
- The removal potential of bio-based economies and bio-based value chains;
Beyond these suggestions, directing calls for projects based on a diverse portfolio of CDR methods will be necessary to help the industry bridge the research and innovation gap and ensure the maturity of all removal technologies. This approach requires that Horizon Europe ensure there are sufficient calls for all levels of maturity (TRL levels) and types of actions (Research & Innovation, Innovation and Coordination & Support Actions), since carbon removal requires both early-stage research capacity and support for deployment.
Regulation (EU) 2021/695 of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing Horizon Europe
Deadline for the Feedback Period – Horizon Europe – Interim Evaluation
Deadline for the Public Consultation period
Publication of factual summary reports from the public consultation
Horizon 2020 ex-post evaluation report (staff working document)
High Level Expert Group work
High Level Expert Group Report publication
A new horizon for Europe – Impact Assessment for Horizon Europe 2021-2027
Horizon Europe budget breakdown
Evidence Framework on monitoring and evaluation of Horizon Europe – focusing on the measurement of impact for Horizon, including the introduction of Key Impact Pathways.
Regulation (Eu) 2021/695 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 April 2021 establishing Horizon Europe – the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, laying down its rules for participation and dissemination, and repealing Regulations (EU) No 1290/2013 and (EU) No 1291/2013