Scientists are beginning work on four studies that will tackle key challenges facing the UK as it adapts to climate change and works to reach net zero emissions by 2040.
Led by the universities of Cambridge, Exeter, Glasgow and Oxford, each team will develop solutions to four issues: biodiversity loss; achieving net zero cities, helping rural communities adapt to climate change; and providing timely data, analysis and evidence for policy decisions.
The four projects have each received £10 million from the Natural Environment Research Council, part of UKRI, to bring together teams drawing on expertise from a range of disciplines. These include economics, environmental science, engineering, social and natural sciences.
Net Zero Glasgow
The Glasgow Living Lab programme, GALLANT, will help Glasgow move towards climate resilience whilst tackling health, social and economic inequalities. It will focus on capturing greenhouse gases in formerly derelict land, improving biodiversity, valuing riverbanks as community spaces, promoting active travel and creating energy solutions. Almost 50 new jobs will be created in the city.
Lead research Professor Jaime L Toney, director of the Centre for Sustainable Solutions, University of Glasgow, said: "Using Glasgow as a living lab is an exciting opportunity to collaborate with communities and stakeholders across the city to deliver tangible environmental solutions that also improve public health, wellbeing, and move us toward a green, inclusive economy."
Threats to 'the UK's Vegetable Garden' and Rural Spaces
Cambridge University researchers will tackle environmental threats to nearly half the UK's home-grown vegetables and more than a quarter of its rare and endangered wild animals as part of a major countryside regeneration project to safeguard the country's most important agricultural land and beloved rural idylls.
Farming in the Fens, pine martens in the Cairngorms, and disappearing woodlands in the Lake District will all benefit from £10 million to work with farmers, landowners, conservation groups and local communities to address ecological threats such as extinction, flooding, drought and pollution.
Professor Stephen J Toope, Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, said: "The interlinked extinction and climate crises pose a major threat to our future. Harnessing the full-breadth of expertise across Cambridge, this project will develop evidence-informed solutions and provide tools for government and stakeholders to regenerate landscapes for the benefit of climate, nature, the economy and society."
Rapid Research to Help Achieve UK Commitments
The University of Oxford's AGILE project is undertaking rapid six-month sprint studies to better input scientific expertise and data into the government's environmental policymaking. These studies include: flood waste management in Cumbria, the Cairngorms, Sussex and Oxfordshire; decarbonising shipping, which is responsible for 2.5 % of greenhouse gas emissions; carbon capture and storage; and tackling biodiversity loss. The project will take lessons learnt from the work to create the Oxford Astra Zeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
Professor Nathalie Seddon, professor of biodiversity and director of Oxford's Nature-based Solutions Initiative, says: "The AGILE Initiative intends to change how research and evidence are embedded in environmental policy. The first five Sprint projects and their teams are already established, and these will be the focus of our first year. But this is a five-year project with the mandate and the funding to keep pinpointing and working on those areas of environmental policy where rapid scientific insight can have rapid and measurable impact."
Researchers at the University of Exeter with the National Trust will investigate and tackle biodiversity loss in the UK through partnerships and community action.
The 'Renewing biodiversity through a people-in-nature approach' (RENEW) project will work with landowners, businesses, and communities to restore woodlands, wetlands and farmland across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The project will put people at the centre of action on biodiversity renewal and build expertise across different sectors and communities.
Project lead, Professor Kevin Gaston at the University of Exeter said: "Currently, the UK is one of the world's most nature-depleted countries, with 40% of monitored species having declined in abundance in recent decades. We rely on the biodiversity of the planet's ecosystem to provide oxygen, pollination of plants, food and much more, making this a crucial time to act. We will bring together wide-ranging research and partnership expertise with environmental and community intelligence to create the sustainable solutions required."
Professor Sir Duncan Wingham, Executive Chair of NERC, said:
"As COP26 has shown, it's imperative that we invest in world-leading science to find solutions now to climate change and recovery of our natural environment. This investment by NERC will enable an ambitious step change in how the best science from across different disciplines can come together to address major environmental challenges facing the UK and support the transition to a Net Zero and nature-positive future."