A "first-of-its-kind" consortium has been established 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, co-led led by The James Hutton Institute and the University of Leicester, will provide 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.

Made up of 34 leading research and stakeholder organisations - including Forest Research - and established with £6.5 million funding from UK Research and Innovation, it 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.

Forestry minister Rebecca Pow said: "The way we use our land has important impacts across society, helping to produce the food we eat, provide habitats for wildlife and contributing to net zero by acting as a carbon store.

"The Land Use for Net Zero consortium will help us to develop the knowledge needed to make the best possible use of our land.

"Balancing the priorities in land use while working towards net zero requires careful consideration of the needs of different sectors, which is why we need this kind of collaboration and knowledge sharing to ensure that we can make land use work for people and for net zero."

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.

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.

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.

Hub co-lead, Professor Lee-Ann Sutherland (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.

Forestry Journal: Forestry Minister Rebecca Pow Forestry Minister Rebecca Pow

"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." 

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.