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 welltargeted 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.  

Deep Dive

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:  

A table showing the main programs and total budgets for individual pillars of Horizon Europe
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:  A table of the total funding for programs in pillar three of Horizon Europe
    • 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:

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 CDRrelated 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.  

A table showing the various budgets available for CDR both directly and indirectly in Horizon Europe

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:  

  1. Sustainable economic models that incorporate ways to measure and incentivise the co-benefits of carbon removal; 
  2. Addressing challenges in soil, water, nutrient and biodiversity through e.g, carbon removal; 
  3. 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. 

Timeline

7 June 2018
April 2019
11 December 2020
28 April 2021
29 July 2022
23 February 2023
15 May - 7 June 2023
Q2 2023
9 July 2023
7 September 2023
December 2023
Q4 2023
Q4 2023 - Q4 2024
06 May 2024
Q4 2024
28 April 2021

Regulation (EU) 2021/695 of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing Horizon Europe

29 July 2022

Deadline for the Feedback Period – Horizon Europe – Interim Evaluation

23 February 2023

Deadline for the Public Consultation period

Q2 2023

Publication of factual summary reports from the public consultation

December 2023

Horizon 2020 ex-post evaluation report (staff working document)

Q4 2023 - Q4 2024

High Level Expert Group work

06 May 2024

Opportunity to provide feedback on the Horizon Work Programme 2025 open until 6 May 2024

Q4 2024

High Level Expert Group Report publication

Further reading

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.  

Funding and Tenders Portal 

Horizon Europe Strategic Plan 2021-2024 

Horizon Europe Strategic Plan 2025-2027 Analysis   

Horizon Work Programmes  

Countries

Since 1 August 2022, the following countries have association agreements in place: Albania, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Faroe Islands, Georgia, Iceland, Israel, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Norway, Serbia, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine.  

Status

Policy Type

Unofficial Title

Horizon Europe

Year

2021

Official Document

Last Updated

31/07/2023

In a Nutshell

The National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) outline the EU member states’ 2021-2030 strategy to meet the EU 2030 energy and climate targets. The Regulation on the governance of the energy union and climate action (EU) 2018/1999, requires member states to regularly submit NECPs and update them. It also outlines how the European Commission should review the plans.

In their NECPs, member states outline their plans for delivering on 2030 targets across five dimensions: decarbonisation, energy efficiency, energy security, internal energy market and research, development and innovation (RD&I). Member states use a template when outlining their plans to facilitate transborder collaboration and efficiency gains. So far, the 2030 climate and energy targets aim for at least 55% greenhouse gas emissions reductions, 32% of the total energy production coming from renewable energy, and a 32.5% improvement in energy efficiency. The Fit-for-55 package called for more ambitious targets, some of which are still under review, including raising the share of renewable energy within the Renewable Energy Directive to 42.5% by 2030.

Out of the 26 draft updated NECPs that have been submitted by member states – noting that Austria’s draft was submitted but later withdrawn -, only seven submissions include some sort of target for removals. These are either legally enshrined, such as in Portugal, or indicative targets based on the modelling of residual emissions, such as in the Netherlands. Furthermore, only ten NECPs mention novel CDR methods, such as Direct Air Capture and Carbon Storage (DACCS) and biochar. These technologies are predominantly mentioned as part of countries’ RD&I needs.

Several countries have also signalled that their submitted drafts are incomplete and are expected to change substantially as part of the final updated NECPs.

What's on the Horizon?

As required by the  Regulation on the Governance of the Energy Union and Climate Action, member states must have submitted an updated draft of their NECPs by 30 June 2023, and the final version by 30 June 2024.

The Regulation also requires that by 1 January 2029 and every ten years thereafter, member states will need to submit a new final NECP covering ten years, with draft NECPs due one year prior.

Deep Dive

Assessment of the drafts by the Commission

Most of the draft updated NECPs were submitted late. By 3 July 2023, only six countries had submitted their draft updated NECPs: Spain, Croatia, Slovenia, Finland, Denmark and Italy. On 18 December 2023, the European Commission published its general assessment of the 20 out of 27 drafts submitted thus far, as well as a detailed assessment of each draft plan. It found that the measures presented in the drafts would only result in a net 51% emissions reductions by 2030, falling short of the 55% net emissions reductions target. The measures foreseen in the submitted NECPs would also fail to deliver the 40% emissions reductions target in the sectors covered by the Effort Sharing Regulation, resulting only in emissions reductions of 33.8%.

The assessment also showed that the LULUCF net removals target of 310MtCO2e set in the LULUCF Regulation would be missed by 40 to 50Mt with the current measures, showing a significant gap between the target and the actual measures in place to deliver on the target. The 8th Environment Action Programme Mid-Term Review further underscored the presence of such a gap, stressing that maintaining and enhancing the capacity of Europe’s natural sinks should be a top priority in the final updated NECPs, alongside increasing the sinks’ resilience to climate change.

 

Current versions versus draft updated versions

The current versions of the NECPs in force, which were submitted at the end of 2019, fail to consider the role of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) in reaching national and EU climate targets. None of the 27 plans include targets for CDR, nor do they take into consideration novel carbon removal methods. Even conventional CDR methods such as afforestation or soil carbon sequestration are insufficiently addressed in the majority of NECPs.

Compared to the current versions, the draft updated NECPs submitted by member states show improvements on several fronts when it comes to CDR. Over half of current NECPs discuss the role of CCS and CCU in achieving national 2030 climate targets; yet almost all new draft NECPs now consider these technologies. Yet, despite some overlaps, CCS, CCU and CDR vary in terms of their climate benefit and CDR must be distinguished as a separate suite of methods. Specific to CDR, more than half of member states included at least one measure that would be relevant specifically to its research, development and innovation. Moreover, more than a third of member states now include some sort of removal target, compared to zero in the current versions, and several other NECPs mention novel CDR methods. Finally, close to half of the NECPs include some considerations around the need to develop CO2 transport and storage infrastructure.

 

 

Rating of all draft updated NECPs

We have rated all draft NECPs based on a previous report from the Ecologic Institute.

Denmark has produced the strongest submission when it comes to CDR, including provisions such as:

  • It includes indicative targets for CCUS and bio-CCS for 2030;
  • It provides details about national deployment incentives for CDR (through its NECCS and CCUS funds);
  • It explores the role that several novel CDR methods could play, such as bio-CCS and biochar;
  • It gives a clear overview of potential CO2 storage capacities, as well as the projects currently being developed.

 

However, the Danish submission leaves room for improvement. The Danish draft lacks measures to increase net LULUCF removals, which is especially concerning since the LULUCF sector is currently a net emitter in Denmark. The NECP also lacks a clear RD&I plan to develop CDR technologies. By addressing these missing elements in its final NECP, Denmark would stand out as a champion of CDR in the EU.

Other countries are on the right path to producing a coherent NECP when it comes to CDR. For example, Sweden and Germany score well in some of the seven criteria. In general, deployment incentives and CDR targets are the least addressed criteria.

 

Why all types of CDR should be considered as part of the NECPs

As highlighted by the European Commission in the Sustainable Carbon Cycles communication, the EU should aim for a minimum annual capacity of 5MtCO2 of permanent removals by 2030. Following the publication of the European Commission 2040 Target and ICMS communications, it is clear that the EU will need to develop large permanent CDR capacities to reach its 2040 climate goals and a state of climate neutrality by 2050. Reaching these ambitious goals in time requires urgent action to develop and start to deploy permanent CDR already today.

 

Recommendations for the final updated NECPs

To align their updated NECP to the 2030 climate targets and the EU-wide objective of climate neutrality by 2050, member states should consider the following aspects in their final updated versions:

  1. National (binding) twin targets for emissions reductions and CDR, and separate CDR targets for LULUCF and permanent removals;
  2. A plan for restoring and maintaining LULUCF sinks;
  3. Dedicated research, development and innovation funding for CDR;
  4. The needs and the potential to transport and store CO2.

Timeline

24 December 2018
31 December 2018
June 2019
31 December 2019
17 September 2020
30 June 2023
18 December 2023
30 June 2024
1 January 2028
1 January 2029
31 December 2018

Deadline for member states to submit their draft NECPs for the period 2021-2030

June 2019

EU Commission communicated an overall assessment and country-specific recommendations

31 December 2019

Deadline for member states to submit their final NECPs

17 September 2020

EU Commission published a detailed EU-wide assessment of the final NECPs. Later on, it also published individual assessments.

30 June 2023

Deadline for member states to submit draft updated versions of their NECPs

18 December 2023

The EU Commission published its assessment of EU member states’ draft updated NECP

30 June 2024

Deadline for member states to submit final updated versions of the NECPs

1 January 2028

Deadline for member states to submit draft NECPs covering the period 2031-2040

1 January 2029

Deadline for member states to submit final NECPs covering the period 2031-2040

Status

Policy Type

Year

2018

Unofficial Title

NECPs

Last Updated

23/06/2023