In the next decades population growth is expected to amplify current pressures on critical resources such as fresh water and food, intensify the stress on land and marine ecosystems and increase environmental pollution and its impacts on health and biodiversity. These problems will be further exacerbated by global warming and the likely impacts of climate change in the Earth system. These are expected not only to have a significant impact on critical resources, but also to endanger human lives and property, especially for the most vulnerable populations.
Society is reacting to this situation requesting production processes more respectful of the natural resources and the transition of industry towards a decarbonised economy, while most governments worldwide have adhered to international regulations and global processes such as the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.
Europe is also responding to this challenge. The European Union Strategic Agenda 2019-2024 and the Political Guidelines for the Next Commission, including the Green Deal, set up the vision to advance towards a sustainable EU within the next decade.
The European research and innovation missions are aligned with this vision and aim to deliver solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing our world. They are an integral part of the Horizon Europe framework programme beginning in 2021, and each mission is a mandate to solve a pressing challenge in society within a certain timeframe and budget.
Achieving this vision will require a quantum leap in our capacity to observe, understand and predict complex and inter-connected natural and anthropogenic processes occurring at different spatial and temporal scales, where different interactions and feedbacks among different components of the Earth system and human activities have reached a scale where abrupt global environmental change can no longer be excluded.
Earth system science together with Earth Observations are expected to play a major role in this process.
Ensuring that the scientific community maximises its scientific and societal impact is urgent and will require a significant collaborative effort and an integrated approach to science. This can only be achieved by promoting a strong programmatic and institutional collaboration in Europe.
With the Joint RTD-EOP Earth System Science initiative, the Research and Innovation Directorate of the European Commission (RTD) and the Earth Observation Programmes Directorate of the European Space Agency (EOP) aim at establishing an effective alignment of selected scientific activities under their Horizon Europe and FutureEO programmes, in terms of goals, content, and planning in order to jointly advance Earth system science and its contribution to responding to the global challenges that society is facing at the onset of this century.
RTD and EOP are cooperating on the basis of a common Scientific Agenda, including a set of common scientific priorities. As a response to the Scientific Agenda, a set of Flagship Actions is being defined to be implemented through a coordinated multi-year set of studies, projects and actions to be funded by both RTD and ESA following their own areas of expertise, competences and funding and programmatic mechanisms.
The initiative will not work in isolation but will complement, seed, cross-fertilize and mutually enrich relevant national, European and international activities and programmes. To facilitate this process, RTD and EOP are establishing a series of Science Clusters as the main mechanism to promote coordination, networking and scientific collaboration among the different ESA and RTD activities and other relevant programmes, projects and institutions.