This programme aims to stimulate new collaborations across disciplines to help realise the full potential of the UK’s contribution to environmental challenges such as energy decarbonisation, creating a circular economy, reversing biodiversity decline, sustainable supply chains and cleaner air.
Environmental research plays a vital role in identifying environmental problems and their cost to the economy and society. This knowledge provides opportunities to develop solutions and interventions that reduce environmental damage and avoid the associated costs. In recent years the scale and complexity of these problems has increased, threatening livelihoods and environments in the UK and around the world.
The strength of research and innovation capability in the UK should put our communities in a leading position not just to articulate environmental problems, but to devise and propose whole system solutions. These solutions rely on a diverse range of expertise across academic disciplines including but not limited to physical and biological sciences, social sciences, medical sciences, engineering, law, business and economics. This requires a step change in the way that academic communities work.
The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) aims to support developing expertise by collaborating across disciplines and organisational structures to build a research community that transcends traditional boundaries. The Changing the Environment programme will stimulate and support new connections across disciplines to help realise the full potential of the UK contribution to environmental challenges. The research and innovation programmes delivered through this funding should look across a system, bringing together a range of disciplines across UKRI’s remit to drive solutions in the selected area of environmental focus.
The programme will provide funding for research organisations to identify a tractable challenge or topic and a programme of work that can lead to tangible outcomes and environmental solutions at an appropriate scale through a whole system approach. The funding will create a critical mass of interdisciplinary expertise stemming from the activity in the research organisation. It will also leverage a wide range of inputs from other stakeholders and partners needed to address the environmental challenge, and to access other funding opportunities.
Noting limitations around the scale of funding and the desire to create substantial critical mass around the chosen challenge area, the main ambition of these programme awards is to build capability within a single research organisation to address a clearly-defined environmental challenge or set of challenges. The programme is expected to create a community within the organisation that is focused on solutions and works towards common goals. Other organisations may be included to make specific contributions to the challenge but their participation must be justified.
Proposals will drive innovative environmental solutions supporting the delivery of UK and global strategies. Examples include:
- new research addressing energy decarbonisation
- creating a circular economy, reversing biodiversity decline
- socially and environmentally sustainable supply chains
- cleaner air.
Proposers should outline the environmental area and challenges they will focus on and their approaches to drive solutions.
The programme design should create new communities to deliver solutions for these challenges, taking a whole of system approach, drawing across the breadth of appropriate UKRI disciplines. The programme will nurture a generation of researchers who take this approach as the norm.