A new hub, bringing together people from different sectors and research disciplines, will provide the scientific evidence needed to develop policies that decarbonise land use in the UK.

At present, UK land is a net source of greenhouse gas emissions due to the way that we manage it for agriculture and other uses, such as draining peatlands, overtillage, and the large-scale production and application of fertilisers. Progress towards achieving carbon neutrality is lagging behind other sectors.  

The new Land Use for Net Zero (LUNZ) Hub, backed by £6.5 million funding from UK Research and Innovation, comprises 34 organisations including the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH). It brings together soil scientists, climate modellers, farmers, advisory organisations, NGOs and experts in afforestation, green finance, renewable energy and planning from across the 4 nations of the UK. This approach recognises the pathways for achieving Net Zero may differ depending on the policies and current land use across the UK.    

Over the next three years, partners will work collaboratively to set out a range of solutions to making UK land use carbon neutral, including providing financial costs and predicting the impacts on the environment and people. Their findings will provide the UK Government and the Devolved Administrations with the scientific evidence they need to develop policies that will drive the UK land transformation required to achieve Net Zero by 2050. 

The delivery of this evidence will be conducted through agile evidence reviews for policy and practice recommendations. This will provide an opportunity for experts within and outside of UKCEH to engage with the hub. 

Professor Paula Harrison of UKCEH will lead a research group within the hub that will develop plausible and innovative pathways to net zero for UK land use that also benefit nature and people.
“The hub aims to bridge the gap between science and policy to achieve Net Zero,” she explains.
“Advanced modelling methodologies can predict the impacts of different interventions by governments and land managers. By involving a wide range of stakeholders, we will develop solutions that are fair and realistic, able to work in practice as well as theory.”

Professor Bridget Emmett of UKCEH, who will co-lead the LUNZ Wales National Team working closely with national teams for England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, adds: “It is so important the project recognises the need to explore options within our four nations before bringing that together at the UK scale. Devolution is a reality and the mix of solutions for each nation will vary due to the different land uses which dominate across the UK.”  

The hub will also develop animations and games to help raise public awareness about the critical importance of land and how the way it is used can make it a major carbon sink or source.
It is co-funded by UKRI, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the UK Government’s Department for Energy Security and Net Zero and Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, and the Scottish Government. The hub, led by The James Hutton Institute and the University of Leicester, has been co-designed with Defra and the Welsh and Scottish governments.

At the recent COP28 climate conference, the UK Government declared its intention to take action on land use and climate change by increasing public financial support and introducing science-based solutions at a national scale.