Societal Challenge 5

Climate Action, Environment, Resource Efficiency and Raw Materials

The specific objective of the Work Programme Societal Challenge 5 (SC5) is to develop a resource-efficient economy that is resilient to climate change, together with a sustainable supply of raw materials, in order to meet the needs of a growing global population within the sustainable limits of the planet’s natural resources. Activities will be aimed at increasing European competitiveness and improve well-being, while assuring environmental integrity and sustainability, keeping average global warming below 2°C and enabling ecosystems and society to adapt to climate change.

Updated on a biannual basis, the Work Programme Societal Challenge 5 details the scope of research topics that are taken as a priority in the specific time frame and lists several Calls for Proposals. Following a competitive process, funding is granted to high-quality research projects submitted by pan-European research consortia formed by research organizations and universities in cooperation with the private and public sectors.

Forest products replacing fossil-based materials

The forest-based sector will contribute in a number of ways to a resource-efficient and climate change-resilient economy. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (Synthesis Report) concluded in its Fourth Assessment Report, “In the long term, a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual yield of timber, fibre or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained [climate change] mitigation benefit.”

The focus on creating the highest possible value from the forest biomass used, needs to be further extrapolated into a vision of the highest possible value from the land used. This will probably strike a new balance between agriculture and forestry for optimal production of food, fibre and feed, fuels and materials, in an economically and ecologically-sound way.

The future provision of forest products and services in different geographical settings will be supported by a wide range of analytical tools and interdisciplinary approaches spanning different spatial and temporal scales of current climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies across the whole forest-based sector. In this context, the choice of, and genetic improvement of, tree species will improve the resilience of forests against climate change.

Biobased chemicals and innovative materials will further replace oil-based products. Second-generation lignocellulosic biofuels will replace fossil fuels. This substitution effect will be significant and an additional contribution of the sector to global carbon reduction.

Innovative wood and fibre-based construction products will replace carbon-intensive cement and steel. The increased use of wood in indoor environments and for functional furniture will also mitigate climate change. But wood product properties such as strength, and moisture-, mould- and fire-resistance need further improvement. One strategy is to treat wood with extracts of its own natural chemicals and polymers.

New hybrid material construction systems will combine the best properties of wood and non-wood materials in high performance, pre-fabricated and fully finished modular elements and structures for housing.

The increased use of composite structures also makes it possible to better utilize small-dimension tree stems.

Improved resource efficiency of the sector’s main processes requires breakthrough innovations in forest management and in wood and fibre industry technologies, pulping, forming, water recycling, energy recovery and process control. New product design and value chain approaches will also be used to reduce energy consumption. Separation and cleaning technologies will be further developed towards zero liquid effluent wood treatment and papermaking. By-products and extracted components from process water will be utilized as value-added products rather than treated as waste.