The University of East Anglia (UEA) is jointly leading a novel network of researchers which is set to help the UK’s agri-food industry move a step closer to net zero.
Funded to the tune of £5 million, the network will bring UK researchers together to explore effective ways to support the industry to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and improve its environmental sustainability.
It will also help the UK’s agri-food industry enhance biodiversity, maintain healthy ecosystems, nurture livelihoods, support healthy consumer habits, and minimise the environmental impacts of overseas trade.
Professor Neil Ward, UEA’s former Deputy Vice-Chancellor, is one of a team of four researchers leading the project, alongside Dr Angelina Sanderson Bellamy of the University of the West of England, Professor Tim Benton of the University of Leeds and Professor Sarah Bridle of the University of York, with the network aiming to bring together researchers, industry leaders, government and members of the public.
UEA’s role in the high-profile network follows the University’s success in related areas in May’s Research Excellence Framework 2021 results, which saw them placed =1st in Agriculture, Food and Veterinary Sciences and 4th in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences.
According to the latest research, the UK’s agri-food industry is responsible for almost a quarter of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Given this significant contribution, it is one industry in which greenhouse gas emissions needs to be addressed if the country is to meet its net zero goals by 2050. However, although the industry contributes to and is affected by climate change, it can also be part of the solution.
The agri-food industry is more than farming alone and involves the whole journey from the farm to the plate and beyond, including manufacturing, retail, consumption and waste management. Any efforts to reduce the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions therefore needs expertise from across a range of research disciplines. The agricultural, biological, natural, environmental, physical, engineering, economic and social sciences all have a role to play.
Led by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and four of its research councils below have joined forces to provide the funding for the network.
- Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
- Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
- Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
- Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
Prof Ward, whose book ‘Net Zero, Food and Farming: Climate Change and the UK Agri-Food System’ is due for release at the beginning of August, said: “It is great that UEA is able to play a central role in co-ordinating this important initiative to harness the best science to support sustainability in the agrifood system. We already have over 70 organisations signed up as partners in the project.”
Prof Dame Lynn Gladden, EPSRC Executive Chair said: “The agriculture food system produces nearly a quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions. By bringing together a multidisciplinary team and engaging a wide range of stakeholders, this project will explore how the journey from farm to fork could be made more sustainable, helping to meet the UK Government’s strategy for achieving net zero by 2050.”
Dr Angelina Sanderson Bellamy, Associate Professor of Food Systems at the University of the West of England and project co-lead, said: “This is a hugely important and exciting initiative and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to build a network to move the agrifood system towards net zero.
“We are really pleased to have been able to bring together such an extensive network team around a shared vision and plan of action. The 2020s is the decade of action. The three-year period of this project will be absolutely critical for the decade and jump-starting coordinated research and action.”
The funding will run for three years, starting in July 2022.
Last year, UEA announced its own organisational net zero commitment, pledging its ambition to 80% net zero campus emissions by 2030, and to be 100% net zero by 2045.