By Elton Alisson
Agência FAPESP – The European Union and Brazil can cooperate much more on open science and innovation, said Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science & Innovation, in a presentation delivered at FAPESP on November 17 about strategic partnerships between Brazil and the EU in this field.
“Brazil is a key partner of Europe, and we’ve made joint progress in strategic areas,” Moedas said. “More than 150 Brazilian researchers currently have grants from European research support programs, but we can do a lot more.”
According to Moedas, a good example of the EU’s ongoing scientific partnerships with Brazil is Viajeo, an open platform designed to facilitate traffic and urban mobility information sharing among five cities: São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Athens in Greece, and Beijing and Shanghai in China. The goal is to organize mass and individual transportation in these cities. In São Paulo, the Technological Research Institute (IPT) and the University of São Paulo (USP) are participating in the project.
Another EU-Brazil partnership in open science and innovation cited by Moedas is the Initiative Toward Sustainable Kerosene for Aviation. Known as ITAKA for short, this is a collaborative project implemented by the European Industrial Bioenergy Initiative (EIBI) to support the development of aviation biofuels in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable manner. Embraer is the Brazilian partner in ITAKA.
“This project is one more step in Brazil’s already long involvement with biofuel production, especially from sugarcane,” Moedas said.
“We can and should continue this positive experience and increase our collaboration in areas in which we are strongly complementary. One of the ways to do this is to continue our cooperation through programs like Horizon 2020.”
Horizon 2020 (H2020), the EU Framework Program for Research and Innovation, is the largest EU program of its kind ever implemented, with nearly €80 billion of funding available over seven years (2014-20) for cooperative science and technology (S&T) projects involving researchers from all over the world.
“A third of the funding will support basic science through European research centers, another third will support research done by small and medium enterprises, and the rest will support projects relating to the major challenges faced by society,” Moedas said.
FAPESP is participating in H2020 through a cooperation agreement with the EU under which researchers affiliated with universities and research institutions in São Paulo State can use the support offered by FAPESP to fund their participation in projects associated with the program, provided they meet the deadlines stipulated by H2020.
“This parallel funding system strengthens our partnership and assures more participation by Brazil in Horizon 2020,” Moedas said. “I hope it serves as an inspiration for other Brazilian states.”
FAPESP President José Goldemberg, who opened the ceremony alongside João Gomes Cravinhos, EU Ambassador to Brazil, said “the presence of the EU Commissioner for Research, Science & Innovation here at FAPESP shows how important cooperation is to intensify and accelerate research in science and technology in São Paulo State.”
Collaborative research on biofuels
Before Moedas delivered his speech, FAPESP Scientific Director Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz announced a call for proposals, issued by the European Commission and FAPESP jointly with Brazil’s National Council for State Research Funding Agencies (CONFAP) and its Ministry of Science, Technology & Innovation (MCTI), for research involving international collaborative research on advanced second-generation biofuels produced from lignocellulosic biomass.
Proposals must involve at least three participants, with one in São Paulo and the others based in different Brazilian states with research foundations that support the call.
In addition, the proposals must be supported by a company that is committed to funding at least 50% of the research project on the Brazilian side, Brito Cruz explained.
“These two opportunities for joint scientific projects are aligned with FAPESP’s intense efforts in recent years to create opportunities for scientists in São Paulo to do research in collaboration with colleagues in other parts of the world, such as the European Union,” he added.
“One of the important requirements of both the notice we issued about how Brazilian researchers can participate in Horizon 2020 and this new call for proposals with the EU is that researchers in São Paulo must demonstrate a significant degree of involvement in creating and designing the research projects concerned by showing how they have discussed and contributed to choosing the topics covered.”
Knowledge belongs to humanity
In his speech, Moedas quoted Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) as having said that science has no homeland because knowledge belongs to all mankind.
So humanity bears a common responsibility for defining what knowledge to produce for the future, what ultimate goals should be set, and what this knowledge should be used for.
These definitions should be based on what Moedas called “the three Os:” open science, open innovation, and openness to the world.
“One of the key drivers of the science of the future is the quality and quantity of data available,” he said. “Big Data will be a major part of this new game. That’s why in Europe we’ve established an aggressive policy for open access, open data and research integrity. Above all, we want integrity so that we can be open.”
For Moedas, one of the greatest examples of the benefits of open data is the Human Genome Project led by the US National Institutes of Health.
The project cost US$3.5 billion and is estimated to have given rise to a new market worth more than US$800 billion, as well as 300,000 jobs, by allowing free access to the data, he said.
“We need innovators who will seize the new opportunities offered by digital technology, which enables small business and indeed everyone to create new markets, products and services that meet society’s increasingly global needs,” Moedas stressed.
The success stories that began with startups derived from this new digital world include Spotify, the Swedish music streaming service, and Brazil’s EasyTaxi, a mobile e-hailing application that is now available in 420 cities in 30 countries and was the first of its kind worldwide when it was launched four years ago.
“In Europe, there’s a lot of debate about companies like Uber, a private driver service, and Airbnb, a home sharing service, and evidently we have to make sure these companies pay tax and respect the rules of fair competition,” Moedas said.
“But we should also stop and think about this: These companies are creating value. The economic transactions they make possible didn’t exist before. They can contribute significantly to economic growth.”
Global solutions to global challenges
Moedas appealed to the audience, made up of heads of universities, research institutions and business organizations, as well as researchers, to use their voices to explain to politicians that the only way to contribute to better lives for all social groups is economic productivity. And that means innovating.
“If we look at the European countries and others that have experienced recent economic crises, we can see that the countries that came out best are those that invest most in science and innovation, because in times of difficulty, the politicians in those countries made that decision,” he said.
Between 1995 and 2007, for example, 67% of Europe’s growth was due to science and innovation.
“It’s hard to sell to politicians the idea that science and innovation are key to economic development because they [politicians] work with a short cycle, whereas science has long cycles. But in hard times, it’s crucial for scientists to speak up for the importance of S&T and innovation, using numbers and hard data, so that the politicians can make their choices,” Moedas argued.
Knowledge must be leveraged to create jobs and drive economic growth, but at the same time, scientists must be open to the world so as to create solutions to global challenges in areas such as energy, water, health and food. “These challenges require global solutions. Hence, the idea I advocate is that science should be open to the world,” Moedas said.
One of his most memorable experiences in this regard, he went on, and one that motivated him to advocate the importance of open science, was a visit to SESAME(Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science & Applications in the Middle East), which is under construction in Jordan, a few months after he was appointed EU Commissioner for Research, Science & Innovation.
SESAME is a third-generation synchrotron light source being developed under the auspices of UNESCO as a cooperative venture launched in 1999 by Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, Palestine and Turkey.
“The people there, who perhaps wouldn’t [otherwise] talk to each other about anything else, talk about science. I was able to see that science is key to building bridges where they often aren’t possible otherwise,” Moedas said.