The Environmental Change Institute is part of a new transdisciplinary hub looking to bridge the gap between science and policy to achieve Net Zero.
A first of its kind consortium of 34 leading research and stakeholder organisations has been established to help all four UK administrations address land use and agriculture as a major greenhouse gas emitting sector.
The “Land Use for Net Zero” (LUNZ) Hub, co-led by The James Hutton Institute and the University of Leicester, with £6.5 million funding from UK Research and Innovation, will provide UK and devolved nations timely evidence around land use, from renewable energy to soil carbon and green finance, to help drive the land transformations needed to achieve net zero by 2050.
It will also play a pivotal role in helping to communicate more widely the critical importance of land and how it’s used as a major carbon sink or source.
Agriculture and land use have a major impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as well as a wide range of other environmental, societal and economic outcomes, but progress towards decarbonisation is lagging behind other sectors.
The declaration recently announced at COP28 on sustainable agriculture, resilient food systems and climate action states the UK government’s intent to act on land use and climate change by increasing public financial support and scaling science-based solutions, and LUNZ will be a key conduit for these actions.
Achieving the transformational change in land management needed will depend on government access to world-class research and innovation and a novel approach to collaboration across a variety of critical stakeholders.
Hub co-lead Professor Lee-Ann Sutherland, at The James Hutton Institute, said: “The science behind land use is highly complex. It is influenced by a range of economic, social and environmental factors, and complicated further by a changing evidence base, novel market forces, the emergence of new data and models, and disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence. Our aim is to bridge the gap between researchers and policy makers and our work will be focused on meeting specific policy-maker needs, giving them the evidence they need in the format and timeframe they need it.
“Our consortium has developed a series of innovative mechanisms to do just that – an Agile Policy Centre, Net Zero Futures Platform, and Creative Methods Lab – each tailored to generate clear, robust answers to urgent questions.”
Equally novel is the approach to stakeholder participation in the Hub, as Hub Co-lead, Professor Heiko Balzter, at the University of Leicester, explained: “Creating a fair, realistic path to Net Zero in the land use sector can only be achieved with the involvement of a wide range of stakeholders throughout the process– to provide their expertise, share the Hub’s outputs and ensure its proposals work in practice as well as theory.
“Our consortium reflects this – ranging from those at the cutting edge of climate change modelling to farmers groups, advisory organisations, non-governmental organisations and an arts collective. Their range and profile will ensure the Hub’s impact extends throughout society – so everyone can engage in land use transformation – from the food they buy to their holiday, housing and investment decisions.”
The ECI’s work with the LUNZ Hub will focus on the use of the FABLE tool for exploring sustainable land use policy in the UK. The Food, Agriculture, Biodiversity, Land-Use, and Energy (FABLE) Consortium is a global network of researchers who develop national pathways that are consistent with global sustainability objectives, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement targets.
Alison Smith, Senior Research Associate at the ECI, said:
This is a great opportunity to build on the work of the Agile Initiative, which used FABLE to show how food and agriculture policy can free up space for nature-based solutions. By working with policymakers from all four devolved nations we now hope to show how FABLE can be deployed more widely as a policy support tool.”
At the heart of the challenge is understanding how transformative change can be achieved and predicting the impact of proposed approaches against multiple environmental, societal and economic outcomes. A central strand of the Hub’s approach will be the development of plausible and innovative net zero scenarios and associated pathways – novel tools based on advanced modelling methodologies that can predict the impacts of different policy interventions across a variety of metrics.