The Integrated Environmental Systems (IES) thematic line, coordinated by Carlos Borrego, aims to contribute to innovative products, services, models and processes that can benefit the environment by preventing and reducing present and future anthropogenic pressures on natural resources. The rationale behind this thematic line is fourfold. First, despite progress towards an increased resilience of the environment to systemic risks and change, there remain major environmental challenges, as well as opportunities to environmental resilience. Second, the EU has adopted the Europe 2020 Strategy for Smart, Sustainable and Inclusive Growth, which will guide policy development for the period up to 2020. Third, while Portugal is struggling to overcome the current economic crisis, the widely recognized need for structural reforms also represents important opportunities for the country to advance towards an inclusive green economy. Finally, Rio+20 have highlighted the importance of the global dimension.
IES research strategy expect to step up the contribution of science to the transition towards a sustainable society, and it is structured into two vectors that are cornerstones for the mobilization of EU funds for the next cycle: i) risk assessment and climate change adaptation; ii)resource efficiency and transition to a low carbon economy.
Regarding risk and climate change adaptation, Portugal is the more vulnerable European country, according to all known studies and scenarios. The main risks include natural and anthropogenic phenomena, such as emission and transport of emerging pollutants, desertification, soil erosion, salinisation of soils and decline organic matter, coastal erosion, floods, landslides, droughts, wildfires and hazards. To risk situations contribute extreme weather events such as heat waves, heavy rainfall and strong winds associated with thunderstorms, which are expected to affect the country with greater frequency and intensity than at present. Taking into account the existing strategic and operational instruments, as well as the identified needs, IES research will aim at increasing the knowledge about the risks affecting the country, through assessment of vulnerabilities, monitoring and modeling, and at contributing to national, regional and local policies on risk management, through planning from a perspective of resilience and adaptation.
In order to meet the needs of a growing global population, within the limits of sustainability of the planet's natural resources and eco‑systems, it is absolutely necessary to advance towards a low-carbon, sustainable and competitive economy, as also highlighted in the H2020 programme. Priorities for doing so include efficient use of environmental resources, air, water, biomass, fertile soils, biodiversity and ecosystems and the services they provide. As highlighted by the Roadmap to a Resource-Efficient Europe, water is a scarce and stressed resource, so that its efficient use brings significant economic and social benefits. IES will look into measures based on an integrated and an adaptive management approach to value water resources and mitigate climate change effects, to promoting the recycle and reuse of materials towards a near zero waste economy, to protect soil quality and functions, to improve resilient agricultural and forestry practices and to promote sustainable urban agriculture, contributing to a resource efficient economy by increasing the capacity to preserve and sequester carbon in (forest) soils and to reduce its loss, including by erosion.
Research groups involved in the IES thematic line:
- Atmospheric Processes & Modeling
- Coastal Zone Planning & Management
- Environmental Processes & Pollutants
- Marine & Estuarine Ecology
- Oceanography & Marine Geology
According to the EEA's latest assessment, European air pollution levels are still problematic and citizens continue to be exposed to hazardous substances. Urban areas in particular face a number of environmental problems which may be enhanced under climate change. Although the scale and intensity of the problems vary, a common set of issues are identified: high level of GHG emissions, poor air quality, scarcity of recreational areas, neglect of the built-up environment, urban sprawl, and generation of large volumes of waste and waste water. These problems have significant impacts on health, environment and economy. A low carbon competitive economy require actions to preserve crucial functions of aquatic and terrestrial systems, to re-use and recycle raw materials as well as to reduce GHG emissions, also complementing existing and planned air quality measures to significantly reduce air pollution.
In accordance with the societal challenges within H2020, the main objectives of IES line are to provide knowledge on air quality and climate change for effective decision making, and to support mitigation and adaptation policies, as well as to develop novel integrated approaches towards the sustainable planning and management of natural capital, fostering bio-physical and socio-economic research that underpins such approaches.
Regarding risk assessment and climate change adaptation, the IES addresses the diagnosis of climate change signals. The envisaged outcomes will help predicting the impacts of likely scenarios of climate and land-use change on water resources availability and quality, and assessing the effectiveness of planning measures to counter-act these impacts. Novel approaches towards integrated sustainable and resilient management of natural capital will also be devised. The risk assessment of the potential toxic metals/metalloids/metallic nanoparticles and environmental stress on animal/plants will be a priority, linking with EBH and EFB lines. In the scope of urban areas adaptation to climate change, IES woks on the: i) implement resilience factors in emission scenarios to describe the interaction between resilience factors and climate change effects, reducing exposure and sensitivity to climate change; ii) coupling of mesoscale and local scales models to assess the effects of climate change; iii) increase of sustainability of urban agriculture and protection of soil and water quality. Research is also be conducted on soil quality and food safety aspects as well as on air quality and health issues, with articulation with EBH line.
In the field of resource efficiency and transition to a low carbon economy research activities include: i) the quantification of the effects of wildfires and post-fire land management on soil degradation, and the development of innovative techniques to prevent or mitigate these fire effects; ii) the development of novel approaches to an integrated accounting of resource use efficiency of agricultural, forestry and industrial products; iii) the development of cost-effective and environmentally-sustainable solutions for valorization of organic materials from agriculture, forestry and industry; iv) the development and application of new remediation strategies, namely through photodegradation and development of low-cost adsorbents, for contaminated water and soils; and v) the assessment of the influence of the properties organic matter on the biogeochemical cycles of pollutants. Another important research subject is to identify source-oriented cost effective control strategies capable of reducing exposure to PM2.5 in Southern Europe by creating novel source-specific emission profiles for non-road emissions. The IES develops participatory approaches to implement sustainable resource planning and governance; within this framework IES work closely with MER and EBH lines.