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North-east academics to co-lead £6.5m research investment into national land use transformation

By David Porter

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The James Hutton Institute, based in Aberdeen is co-leading a consortium of 34 organisations including Aberdeen University and SRUC which have been awarded £6.5m government funding to establish a “Land Use for Net Zero” (LUNZ) Hub.

Land use can have a major role in meeting net zero targets. Picture: LUNZ
Land use can have a major role in meeting net zero targets. Picture: LUNZ

The LUNZ Hub aims to provide all four UK administrations with the rapid evidence they need to develop policies that will drive the UK land transformation required to achieve Net Zero by 2050.

Hutton will be the hub’s main administrator, as well as leading an innovative £1.5 million Agile Policy Centre and providing project management and core research and expertise.

The hub has been set up 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, backed by £6.5 million funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), 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.

The hub, co-led with the University of Leicester and with consortium partners 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.

As well as co-leading the hub, the Hutton will be its main administrator, lead the innovative £1.5 m Agile Policy Centre and provide project management and core research and expertise.

The University of Aberdeen is leading the soil health and carbon dynamics topic advisory group, and SRUC is heading the Scottish national team on the hub.

Hub co-lead Professor Lee-Ann Sutherland, from the Hutton, explains: “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.”

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.

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.

Because of this, the hub is also taking an innovative approach to stakeholder participation, as hub co-lead, Professor Heiko Balzter (University of Leicester), explains: “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.”


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