Irish researchers to advise EU on climate, cancer and other key issues

23 Sep 2022

Image: © Satenik Guzhanina/

A total of 75 global experts were selected to advise on climate, cancer, oceans, smart cities and soil.

The EU has selected experts to advise it on existential challenges facing society – and the line-up includes two researchers from University College Dublin (UCD), an honorary professor from Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) and the former CEO of the Marine Institute.

The chosen experts come from business, public administration, science, culture and civil society organisations, and will form the boards advising on five EU missions.

These missions are part of the Horizon Europe research and development programme. They aim to deliver solutions to societal, economic and environmental challenges by putting research and innovation in a new role and by engaging citizens.

The areas of focus for the missions are the climate crisis, cancer, oceans, smart cities and soil.

More than 1,100 people across Europe and beyond applied to become members of the mission boards after the European Commission launched a fresh call for experts at the beginning of this year.

Each mission board consists of 15 experts, including a chair, who will promote the EU missions by raising citizen awareness and advising on the actions of the missions’ implementation plans.

The mandate of the new members will run from 2022 to 2025, and they will build on the work of the previous boards that were in place from 2019 to 2021.

“I count on their knowledge, inspiration and vision to shape an important instrument of Horizon Europe, reinforcing the groundwork of the previous mission boards,” said EU commissioner for innovation and research Mariya Gabriel.

“I am confident that with great mobilisation and focus, exploiting synergies across programmes, we will effectively achieve the missions’ goals.”

Irish experts

There are several names from around the island of Ireland among the 75 global experts selected.

Prof Shane Ward, full professor of biosystems engineering at UCD, has been appointed to the EU mission board on adaptation to climate change.

The main goal of this mission is to help move at least 150 European regions and communities towards climate resilience by 2030.

Ward said this will involve “fostering the development of innovative solutions that are practicable and implementable on a society-wide pan-European basis”.

“Given Ireland’s unique position as a global leader in efficient food production, and our exceptional research and innovation work on sustainable farming systems, our input is really important and valuable to the overall European effort,” he added. “This is a great opportunity for Ireland to contribute significantly to Europe’s global leadership towards climate resilience.”

Meanwhile, Dr Amanda Drury, assistant professor at UCD’s School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems, is joining the mission board on cancer.

This mission aims to improve the lives of more than 3m people by 2030 through prevention, cure and helping people with cancer live longer and better.

“The physical, psychological and social effects of cancer and cancer treatment are persistent and can have profound impacts on the quality of life of the person living with cancer, and the wellbeing of their families and caregivers,” Drury said.

She added that she is honoured to represent the nursing profession on the EU mission board as nurses “play a critical role” in patient care.

Prof John Gilliland, an honorary professor of practice at QUB’s Institute for Global Food Security, has been appointed to the mission on soil.

Gilliland is also a former president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union and chair of the UK government’s Rural Climate Change Forum, and is currently director of agriculture and sustainability at animal nutrition company Devenish.

He will work on the EU mission to establish 100 living labs and lighthouses to lead the transition towards healthy soils by 2030, and develop a harmonised framework for soil monitoring in Europe.

Dr Peter Heffernan, former CEO of Ireland’s Marine Institute, has been appointed to the board of the EU mission to restore our ocean and waters.

The mission aims to help achieve the marine and freshwater targets of the European Green Deal, such as protecting 30pc of the EU’s sea area and restoring marine ecosystems and 25,000km of free-flowing rivers.

The final EU mission aims to deliver 100 climate-neutral and smart cities across Europe by 2030. It will also look to ensure that these cities act as experimentation and innovation hubs to enable all European cities to follow suit by 2050.

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Sarah Harford was sub-editor of Silicon Republic