Europe will need carbon removal to reach net zero by 2050; the science clearly says so, yet there is currently limited funding for research and innovation to scale up these crucial technologies. To fund its net zero goals, the EU has developed a wide range of funding mechanisms, of which Horizon Europe is a central pillar, with €95.5 billion available for research in selected areas for 2021-2027. However, Horizon Europe is dedicated to funding the green transition as a whole, with only a part dedicated to carbon removal. So, we have taken it upon ourselves to take a deep dive into funding for carbon removal in Horizon Europe to understand what is available and what can be improved.
What does Horizon Europe look like?
Within Horizon Europe lies an intricate framework with several subprogrammes, but in a nutshell, these are the basics:
Part 1: Specific programme implementing Horizon Europe based on three pillars:
- Pillar I – Excellent Science: strengthens the scientific base with programs like the European Research Council (ERC);
- Pillar II – Global Challenges and European Industrial Competitiveness: addresses key global issues through six clusters and specific missions;
- Pillar III – Innovative Europe: fosters disruptive innovations with programs like the European Innovation Council (EIC), which promotes breakthroughs, deep tech and disruptive innovation with scale-up potential.
Part 2: – Widening Participation and Strengthening the European Research Area (ERA): enhances research capabilities in countries lagging behind based on the European Research Area policy goals as well as researchers’ training that can support their participation in R&I activities.
What do the numbers say?
When looking at funding support for a specific family of methods, such as CDR, two things need to be kept in mind:
(1) Are the resources targeted directly towards developing a removal method in itself; or
(2) Is the effect an indirect one by producing spillovers to removal methods and the ecosystem itself such as developing CO2 transport and storage or strengthening MRV systems?
Under this lens, a close look at calls for projects within Pillar II shows that carbon dioxide removal (CDR) projects have received funding from Horizon Europe during both available work programmes (2021-2022) and (2023-2024). However, the support has been predominantly indirect, with a lower share of direct funding support for CDR.
After a detailed mapping of funding available, we found that: (see our policy tracker entry for a more detailed breakdown):
Amount of funding (EUR) directed to carbon removal in Horizon Europe in work programmes 2021/2022 – 2023/2024
- 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.
- Both research and innovation (early-stage support) and innovation actions (starting with prototypes) are present. Research and innovation support took the lead in general for 2021-2022 and for direct support calls for CDR in 2022-2023. A balance of both is found in overall CDR funding for the latest work programme.
Carbon removal funding check: what should Horizon bring?
The new phase of Horizon Europe is gearing up ahead of the next strategic plan for 2025-2027, which will guide directions for the forthcoming programmes and therefore research and innovation support. This new phase sets in motion exciting developments to inform future work and evaluate the impact achieved so far through, for example, the expected Horizon’s Interim Evaluation and the forthcoming work from the Expert Group to be appointed by the Commission.
We’ve uncovered three key crucial areas for improvement to unluck the support needed from Horizon Europe to promote carbon removal:
- Knowledge and targeted funding: carbon removal is a family of methods of its own, and the differences with CCUS must be clear when designing new calls for projects. A more sophisticated approach that also targets the whole spectrum of CDR methods can pave the way for more dedicated funding towards CDR;
- Means in line with targets: the EU has ambitious climate neutrality goals, but the current research and innovation funding support for carbon removal is not nearly enough to foster the technological development needed to meet goals and lead the global industry. The support must be expanded;
- Diverse and precise support: enhancing Horizon Europe’s support by expanding calls to encompass various technology readiness levels, action types, and carbon removal methods will be key. This diversification also includes filling gaps highlighted in the recent Strategic Plan 2025-2027 analysis. These gaps pertain to establishing sustainable economic models that encourage carbon removal co-benefits, tackling challenges related to soil, water, nutrients and biodiversity through carbon dioxide removal (CDR), and maximising the potential of bio-based economies and value chains;
Keeping an eye on the Horizon
As we embark on the journey towards scaling up carbon removal, Horizon Europe already stands as a cornerstone in Europe’s green transition, but it must step up its role in advancing CDR. Forthcoming Strategic Plans and work programmes offer the Commission an open door to strengthen research and innovation and later-stage development support for CDR.
By Eloisa Viloria, Associate Policy Analyst