Tuesday 16th of July 2019 12:02 PM

SAPEA Reports

Making sense of science
for policy under conditions of complexity and uncertainty

SAPEA Evidence Review Report No 6

Now more than ever, policymakers need good quality science advice to inform their decisions, and the very policy issues for which scientific input is most needed are the ones where the science itself is often complex and uncertain.
What the report says
The report highlights the fact that many of the world’s most pressing problems are also incredibly complex — including climate change, environmental pollution, economic crises and the digital transformation of societies. What’s more, the scientific knowledge around these areas can often be uncertain or contested.


- Science is one of many sources of knowledge that inform policy. Its unique strength is that it is based on rigorous enquiry, continuous analysis and debate, providing a set of evidence that can be respected as valid, relevant and reliable.
- Science advice supports effective policymaking by providing the best available knowledge, which can then be used to understand a specific problem, generate and evaluate policy options and monitor results of policy implementation. It also provides meaning to the discussion around critical topics within society.  The advice works best when it is guided by the ideal of co-creation of knowledge and policy options between scientists and policymakers.
- The relationship between science advisers and policymakers relies on building mutual trust, where both scientists and policymakers are honest about their values and goals.
- Scientific knowledge should always inform societal debate and decision-making. Citizens often have their own experiences of the policy issue under consideration and should be included in the ongoing process of deliberation between scientists, policymakers and the public.



Making sense of Science




the future of ageing

SAPEA Evidence Review Report No 5

In Europe and around the world, people are living longer than ever before. This is one of the greatest achievements of the past century, but it also brings challenges for European societies and the EU as a whole.

We must adjust to an ageing and shrinking workforce, and find financially viable ways to deliver high-quality health and social care for all.
What the report says
SAPEA’s evidence review report shows that the ageing process needs to be transformed. Europe must tackle the challenges presented by ageing in every generation.


- When it comes to predicting how people age, evidence indicates that genetic factors are relatively minor compared to lifestyle behaviours such as a healthy diet and physical activity. Policies to promote these behaviours from early childhood, and even in unborn children, contribute directly to a healthy ageing process across people’s whole lives.
- Ageing in the future will take place in a very different context from the past and will be profoundly affected by phenomena such as climate change, air pollution and antibiotic resistance, as well as ongoing social changes. Policies will only be successful if they accommodate these changes.
- Technology is already changing the experience of ageing, including wearable and assistive devices and the advent of AI. But barriers of acceptance and practicality must be overcome.
- Education improvements at a young age are vital not only to improve individual health, but also to equip our future workforce with the skills it needs to support an ageing population in a rapidly changing society.



the future of ageing




Novel carbon capture and
utilisation technologies

Research and climate aspects
SAPEA Evidence Review Report No. 2
Informs the European Commission Group of Chief Scientific Advisors Scientific Opinion No. 4/2018
This report aims, within the framework provided by the SAM/HLG Scoping Paper, to assess the climate mitigation potential of Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU), which is defined as “those technologies that use CO2 as a feedstock and convert it into value-added products such as fuels, chemicals or building materials”.
From a system perspective, CCU involves a number of steps, from capture of CO2 to its conversion into usable C-rich products, from the use of such products to their disposal as C-rich waste, and ultimately, CO2 re-emission – which may happen shortly after CO2 conversion (e.g. for synthetic fuels), or much later (e.g. for polymers). To power the  CO2 capture and transformation processes and – in most cases – the synthesis of  green-hydrogen  as  a  co-reactant,  C-free  energy  is  needed.  These  processes consist of building blocks that also belong to other technology chains of interest for climate mitigation.  As a consequence, CCU’s climate mitigation potential needs to be assessed from a systems perspective, and with regards to how it can provide societal services.  These are defined here as (i) power generation and distribution through the grid, (ii) fuels (and power) for transport and mobility, (iii) long-term storage and long-range transport of intermittent renewable energies; and (iv) manufacturing of industrial products.
The report offers a simplified system analysis of service delivery, which highlights a few key features. 1) Using C-rich synthetic fuels requires the use of large amounts of Renewable Energy Sources (RES) and other carbon-free energies – much larger than what is required when RES electricity or green-hydrogen is used directly for consumption.  2) Such a decrease in efficiency in the use of RES may be acceptable in the provision of: a) C-rich synthetic fuels to power long-range aircraft and long-haul ships; and/or b) long-term storage and long-range transport of defossilised energy to compensate for the intermittency of RES. 3) For such uses, CCU-based solutions should be assessed in comparison with other alternative technologies that are beyond the scope of this report.
To consider the potential opportunities offered by CCU to European industries in supporting (i) climate change objectives, (ii) a circular economy, (iii) energy security and deployment of RES; and (iv) the evolution of CO2 capture systems, the report has defined an assessment framework.  Such a framework identifies nine technology chains with respect to the generation and use of C-rich fuels and classifies them (according  to  a  few  first-order  simplifying  assumptions),  based  on  whether  they generate positive, net-zero, or negative CO2 emissions.

From the analysis of these technology chains, some key conclusions can be drawn: CCU may be part of a circular economy scheme where carbon atoms are recycled and re-used indefinitely over a long time scale. However, it is neither an indispensable element, nor is it sufficient, for a circular economy.  True circular schemes are enabled only when the CO2 generated from burning recycled synthetic (defossilised) fuel in centralised plants or in distributed facilities is again captured from the flue gas (post-combustion capture) or from the ambient atmosphere (direct air capture).  CCU is not part of any negative emission technology chain, whereas CO2 capture is; the pros and cons of using biomass instead of fossil-C or of converted CO2 can be highlighted in the context of this analysis. Such analysis can also offer clear guidelines for a methodology that enables the assessment of the opportunities ((i) to (iv) above) emerging from the introduction of a set of new technology solutions, and which should be preliminary to a full Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA).

The report identifies a need for innovation in at least three domains. Firstly, from a policy perspective: measures, regulations and incentives should examine the energy system  –  including  CCU  –  in  a  holistic,  integrated,  coordinated  and  transparent manner.
Secondly, from a systemic perspective: such an approach is required when evaluating  the  energy  system  and  its  CCU  sub-systems;  further  development  is needed here, both in terms of stakeholder awareness and of consistent definitions of system boundaries and of reference datasets. 

Finally, from a technology perspective: key technical challenges must be tackled in the areas of: collection and purification of CO2 from different sources, synthesis of green-hydrogen via water splitting powered by RES, and catalytic technologies for reductive activation for CO2 conversion to fuels and chemicals. The report concludes by providing a few recommendations for action, inspired by the analysis and considerations above.


Carbon Capture
and Utilisation