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Major research investment into land use transformation at Aberystwyth University

An aerial view of Aberystwyth University’s Gogerddan campus.

Aberystwyth University is part of a new expert consortium established to help the Welsh Government and other UK administrations tackle greenhouse gas emissions from land use and agriculture.

The “Land Use for Net Zero” (LUNZ) Hub, co-led led by The James Hutton Institute and the University of Leicester and involving academics from the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University, has received £6.25 million of funding from UK Research and Innovation.

The new consortium will provide governments of UK nations with 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 is used as a major carbon sink or source.

Agriculture and land use have a major impact on greenhouse gas 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.

Professor Iain Donnison, Head of IBERS at Aberystwyth University said:

“This is a major investment in vital work to support a just transition to net zero, and we are pleased to be able to contribute our expertise.. Our aim as a consortium is to deliver transformative changes in land use, agricultural systems and soil health. Achieving the transformational change in land management needed will depend on government access to world-class research and innovation. Together with other partners, we will develop evidence-based and credible pathways to achieving Net Zero; timed and tailored to meet government and sectoral needs. Our vision for the new hub is an agile, ‘big tent, four nations approach’ analysing, aggregating and translating evidence to support policymakers and other stakeholders.

“Our vision will be delivered with the skills, expertise and resources we have in Aberystwyth and those of the other partners. It will be built on principles of capacity building and just transition. It will unite and fast-track emerging evidence from the consortium’s research projects and key allied research to inform policy at national, regional and local levels within the four nations of the UK.”

Hub co-lead of the winning Consortium, Professor Lee-Ann Sutherland from 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.”

Hub Co-lead Professor Heiko Balzter from the University of Leicester added:

“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.”

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.