The EU sets sky high goals from climate to health in five missions

Bingley floods, Boxing Day 2015, River Aire

The EU set goals to tackle five of the hardest challenges humans face today: cancer, climate change, carbon neutrality in cities, ocean water, and soil health.

We are nowadays familiar with big lofty goals to save the world. I am not talking about the Marvel franchise but big societal challenges that surpasses borders.

For example, in 2015 the United Nations adopted the 2030 agenda for sustainable development including 17 sustainable development goals, which are an urgent call for action by all countries.

Last year the UK hosted the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26), where the urgency to act on the climate crisis was well showcased.

So, what are the EU big ambitions to tackle some of our hardest challenges?

What are the EU missions?

The European Commission got itself a blast from the past launching the five European missions, recalling the ambitions of Kennedy in the sixties to “put a man on the moon!”.

The missions are more than a traditional research and innovation programme. They are an ambitious commitment to transformation and the engagement of citizens, the public and private sector, and focus on people.

The missions set aside €5 billion (€1 billion for each mission) to fund these large ambitions from within the Horizon budget.

The missions align very well with the future economy theme of the plan for action.

1. Conquering cancer: mission possible

According to the NHS, one in two people will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime. But rest assured, the cancer EU mission goal is to save more than 3 million lives by 2030 by delivering concrete solutions.

The EU conquering cancer mission will fund research and innovation grants to understand, prevent and treat cancer as well as to support patient’s quality of life.

Tackling ill health, including cancer is one of the priorities in the health and wellbeing theme of the plan for action.

2. A climate resilient Europe

Prepare Europe for climate disruptions and accelerate the transformation to a climate resilient and just Europe by 2030.

Carbon emissions, increased earth temperatures and increases in weather disasters make the supply of resources like food and water harder to secure. And the more we emit the worse it gets.

The social cost of carbon emissions in 2020 was estimated by the Obama administration in 2010 to $20 per tonne. The scientific community now assess it at around $100 per tonne. The UK in 2020 emitted 414 million tonnes. I’ll let you do the maths!

The EU climate resilient Europe mission wants to provide means to adapt and improve the resilience of EU regions to the climatic changes coming our way and ultimately reduce this social cost. Large scale projects will be launched with funds to rethink how to build better.

Each region is encouraged to bring its own plans and solutions with a strong focus on nature-based solutions at the core of the mission.

Again, the plan for action has a strong focus on net zero, (page 22) “The world is expected to invest $90 trillion by 2030 on infrastructure to address climate change.”

3. Restore our ocean and waters by 2030

50% of marine life will be affected by the acidification of the ocean. Oceans, seas, and inland water represent 75% of Earth surface and all forms of life depend on it. Yet today the entire water cycle is under unprecedented pressure.

The EU restore our ocean and waters mission is set to restore and protect our oceans with five objectives:

  • knowledge
  • regeneration
  • zero pollution
  • decarbonisation
  • governance.

4. 100 climate-neutral cities by 2030, by and for the citizens

EU cities cover 3% of land but account for 72% of all greenhouse gas emissions. The UK Office for National Statistics finds the highest percentage of carbon equivalent emission in UK (17%) is home heating.

Manchester city centre skyline

Credit: Anthony Devlin, UKRI

The EU 100 climate-neutral cities mission will be led by cities committing to net zero by 2030. 377 cities have applied to the expression of interest (EOI) of the EU Commission for this mission. The calls on this mission are still open for those not part of the EOI.

It will holistically look at the multitude of actions needed to get those big complex systems which are cities, to carbon neutral.

UK Research and Innovation has a strong focus on net zero. The plan for action recaps this commitment and cities are the perfect playground to tackle complex system needing net zero transition.

5. Caring for soil is caring for life

Like the oceans, soils are under pressure due to human activities. Healthy soil is paramount to keeping us and the world around us alive.

The EU caring for soil mission will have wide-reaching impacts on:

  • food
  • people
  • planet
  • the climate.

This mission will look to:

  • reduce land degradation
  • conserve carbon stocks (a fancy word for forest, permanent pasture, peatland…)
  • reduce pollution
  • restore soils (stop erosion, enhance habitats etc.).
Atlantic Forest in Brazil from above

Credit: FG Trade, Getty Images

Innovative financing

You can access more information on the missions on the EU Commission’s info day website.

At the January event, it was made clear that the commission understands that €5 billion is not enough to solve these five challenges. And that each mission aims to leverage additional public and private partnership investment to help reach the ambitious targets.

I personally feel confident that the EU missions are an efficient way to leverage finance, including in the UK, for critical objectives and to get impactful results as soon as 2030.

The current calls

There are 34 mission funding opportunities currently open.

If you want more information, please do not hesitate to get in touch:


Jo Frost ​

Telephone: 07597 526 207​


Climate and cities ​

Nicolas Wallet​

Telephone: 07902 401504​


Oceans and waters

​Catherine Holt

Telephone: 07468 715 507​



Helen Sweeney​

Telephone: 07517 132502​


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Top image:  Credit: Chris Gallagher, Unsplash

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