This funding opportunity is co-funded by UKRI, Defra (on behalf of England and Wales), DESNZ, and has been co-designed with Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), Welsh Government and Scottish Government.
Agriculture and other land uses currently have a major impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, carbon sequestration, biodiversity and a wide range of other environmental, social and economic outcomes. Land use change has three major roles to play in meeting net zero:
- reducing direct GHG emissions (especially from agriculture and degraded peatlands)
- sequestering carbon to offset emissions in hard to mitigate sectors
- enabling decarbonisation of other sectors (for example, generating energy from woody biomass, solar and wind, producing low-carbon building materials, and growing feedstocks for the bioeconomy)
To achieve net zero by 2050 while meeting our wider environmental goals, a large-scale transformation is urgently needed in the way land is used and managed. The scale of change needed is unprecedented and will be highly complex to achieve. World-class research and innovation working in partnership with government and other stakeholders is needed to help:
- understand how the desired change can be achieved
- predict impacts across multiple environmental, societal and economic objectives
The aim of the ‘Transforming land use for net zero, nature and people (LUNZ)’ programme is to mobilise and support research that works in partnership with government and industry to tackle net zero through action in the UK land sectors.
The programme will fund research that feeds directly into policy and decision-making in three interlinked themes:
- soil health
- agricultural systems
- land use change
Consortia will be expected to form relationships with government, industry and other stakeholders to develop and explore plausible and innovative pathways to net zero across these three themes that:
- are adapted to the impacts of climate change
- provide societal and environmental benefits
- meet policy commitments of the UK government and devolved administrations such as those set out in the 2023 Environment Improvement Plan
In doing so the programme will seek to fast-track the uptake of research outputs back into policy and decision-making, while adding value to relevant previous and other current programmes such as:
- Farming Innovations programme
- GHG Removal Demonstrators programme
- Transforming UK Food Systems Strategic Priorities Fund
- Agri-food net zero Network+ (Agrifood4Netzero)
- UK Treescapes Programme
The programme aims:
- To support government and industry to deliver UK legal commitments on net zero and the environment, increasing food security and economic growth.
- To deliver strategic high impact transdisciplinary research, expert knowledge and community that is co-designed and co-led with policymakers.
- Transform the way research and government work together to tackle our most pressing environmental and societal challenges.
- To build on past investments and deliver impact.
Putting the UK at the forefront of a sustainable transition to net zero by:
- strengthening UK transdisciplinary capability and capacity that results in community mobilisation, advancing knowledge, partnerships, and skills in net zero for land use practitioners and policymakers. This will be achieved through research, tools and evidence that inform policy to explore different UK land-use scenarios and appraise the economic, energy security, biodiversity and carbon impacts of these
- integration of new and existing evidence on land use for climate mitigation, biodiversity, agriculture, and other land uses, to enable policymakers or decision makers to design climate resilient land-policy for 2030 and beyond
- developing clean growth opportunities (practices and technologies) that have real world transformational impact
The programme consists of two components:
- The coordination and translation hub: convene a transdisciplinary, cross-sectoral community building relationships with government and industry to co-develop pathways, advance research, integrate knowledge, identify routes to impact and fast-track evidence into policy to support the UK in the transformation towards net zero, while meeting other environmental and societal goals.
- Research projects: transdisciplinary research consortia that can deliver cutting edge research to find solutions and provide evidence to inform policy options for driving the desired systems transformation.
This funding opportunity is for the research projects. There is a separate funding opportunity for the hub: land use for net zero – Hub (LUNZ-Hub).
Transforming land use, soil health and agriculture to reduce GHG emissions, while halting biodiversity loss and supporting the economy and communities, requires transdisciplinary approaches involving multiple stakeholders across sectors, including academia, policy, industry, and civil society.
Therefore, this funding opportunity is for transdisciplinary research consortia that can deliver cutting edge research to find solutions and provide evidence to inform policy options for driving the desired systems transformation. Research projects will be required to link with, provide inputs to, and receive feedback from the Coordination and Translation Hub.
Proposals are invited for high-impact transdisciplinary research to inform policy and drive transformation of the UK land system to achieve net zero in three thematic areas:
- Soil system health and carbon dynamics.
- Reduce agricultural emissions.
- Land use change.
In the context of this programme the term ‘agriculture’ refers to all activities related to crops and farmed animals, including horticulture, aquaculture, as well as mixed systems such as agroforestry and silvopastoral systems.
Within each theme, projects will need to shed light on:
- The nature and scale of change that is needed in order to achieve net zero and other environmental goals.
- The drivers of change and potential policy levers.
- Outcomes from change including co-benefits, trade-offs and risks to the wider environmental, social and economic policy goals (such as air and water quality, biodiversity, and so on.
The three themes are heavily interdependent and must be considered as parts of a wider system to deliver net zero. Research should focus on UK soils, agricultural systems and land use, spanning multiple scales from fields to landscape.
The research projects must be transdisciplinary, integrating all relevant disciplines, and closely involving policymakers and other stakeholders in co-design and co-delivery through a systems approach.
Proposals should seek to address key policy questions in these thematic areas through cutting edge research focusing on a combination of new knowledge, technical innovations, and socio-economic change.
Research proposals should aim to:
- address research questions across at least two of the three themes and seek to explore the linkages between or among them
- support the transformation that is needed within the system and to enable the development of tools and strategies to address the challenges outlined
- demonstrate solutions and facilitate decisions on policy options for achieving net zero targets while meeting other societal benefits and environmental commitments
Research proposals should also deliver broader environmental goals and enhance value to society and the economy.
Projects should consider how solutions can be delivered at scale through local or national policy action.
Please note that this funding opportunity focuses strictly on UK land use and does not include land use and net zero research and interventions in overseas countries that are part of the UK supply chain or that are under its influence.
This funding opportunity will seek to address key challenges in the three thematic areas. These include, but are not limited to:
Land use change
- what are the key drivers of land use change in the UK?
- how do they interact?
- how are these drivers likely to change by 2050?
- how might environmental, economic or social change influence land use change in the UK?
- how might emerging market opportunities affect UK land use?
- how does UK land use drive multiple social, environmental, and economic outcomes?
- what is the value of natural assets associated with land use under different future scenarios?
- what are the risks to natural capital from climate change?
- what are the intended and unintended consequences, and co-benefits of land use changes on people (including future generations)?
- what are the solutions to facilitate a just transition, as part of changes to land management?
- what are the tensions between national and local priorities for land use, and how can they be reconciled?
- what does our understanding of the drivers tell us about trajectories of UK land use change to 2050?
- what land use changes (including agri-system or nature-based solutions) are needed to meet net zero and our wider environmental and socio-economic goals at national and local levels?
- how is the breadth of government policy driving land use change and which drivers of future land use change can be influenced through policy action?
- how can changes be achieved at national, regional and local scales?
- how can national and local interventions work effectively together?
- what levers can be used to influence change in different land-based sectors?
- how can actors be effectively engaged to enhance collaboration and deliver solutions?
- what is the underpinning research required to support development of accessible and usable decision support tools to drive land use policy and day-to-day decision-making at multiple levels, from national to local, and how can their use be embedded?
- to support these tools, data must be at the heart of land use decision-making
- how do we obtain and utilise the complex socio-economic, biological and environmental data required to inform decision-making?
Soil system health and carbon dynamics
Rethinking soil health
- in its own context, what defines a healthy soil system?
- what new and novel indicators (biological, physicochemical, social, economic, cultural) need to be developed to gauge the extent to which a soil system is delivering multiple functions including sustaining low carbon agricultural production, biodiversity recovery and carbon sequestration?
What tools and technologies do we need to develop and adopt at scales suitable to enable reliable measurement, monitoring, and thereby prediction of soil system state including carbon fluxes and biodiversity change under different land use and management practices, and climate scenarios?
Rethinking soil management
How can we use multiscale and layered datasets to drive innovative analysis, visualisation and prediction to transform farming and wider land management systems to deliver sustainable soil systems that support carbon sequestration and biodiversity, among other ecosystem services?
Reduce agricultural emissions
- how might changing patterns of land use and land availability influence the adoption and use of production technologies and management choices that would help reduce or mitigate GHG emissions or adaptation to their impacts?
- what solutions will enable transformation of production systems under different climate scenarios to achieve lower input production with reduced emissions and impacts on biodiversity and other ecosystem services?
- what could the impact be on other policy goals relating to agriculture?
- which emerging approaches might present new solutions for agriculture?
- how can crop and livestock systems be balanced or integrated to optimise productivity while minimising emissions, or both?
- how can the UK agri-food system be transformed to deliver net zero and biodiversity goals while maintaining food security and rural livelihoods?
- what new systems and business models can drive change?
- what social innovations do we need to address cultural and socio-economic barriers to the delivery of net zero agriculture?
- what solutions are needed to enable change at national and local scales?
- to what extent do different models leave us exposed to climate, critical input, and infrastructural disruptions?
Monitoring and scaling up
- what agriculture production systems are there that can be demonstrated at farm-scale, and which may sustainably enable UK agriculture to adapt to different climate change scenarios?
- what improved metrics of emissions and biodiversity are required to track progress, identify target areas, develop interventions, and flag unintended consequences of change at farm, regional and national levels?
- how could new metrics be integrated into, and be applied alongside existing monitoring, reporting and validation methodologies so that they add value and impact at the farm-scale?
Proposals are invited for large research projects that would run for up to 36 months, anticipated to start in March 2024.
For this funding opportunity the funding partners will make available up to £14 million to support cutting edge transdisciplinary, innovative high-impact research projects at 80% FEC.
The FEC of each project can range from £2.5 million to £4.5 million and UKRI and co-funders will fund 80% FEC.
As directed by the UKRI policies and standards, responsible innovation aims to ensure that:
- unintended negative impacts are avoided
- barriers to dissemination, adoption and diffusion of research and innovation are reduced
- the positive societal and economic benefits of research and innovation are fully realised
You will be required to practice responsible innovation following the UKRI guidance. This includes avoiding solution options that would require decreasing the overall fraction of locally produced UK food and avoiding negative offshore environmental outcomes as a result of the changes in UK land use.
UKRI recognises that we must embed environmental sustainability in everything we do.
You are expected to consider the environmental impact of the research projects activities and to put in place actions that encourage sustainability and mitigate any risk of environmental harm.