This project will carry out global spatial analysis of international natural capital implications of UK energy pathways for multiple ES, including interactions and trade-offs between services. This analysis will build on UKERC-funded research (led by Felix Eigenbrod) which used an environmentally extended multi-regional input output framework to quantify the impacts of current demand for oil, gas, and electricity on global water resources by linking a global trade model (GTAP) with a global hydrological model (WATERGAP). It will also link to work in Leeds examining the UK contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions from a consumption perspective and thus provide a bridge between stakeholders primarily engaged with climate change (e.g. UKERC; DECC; UNFCCC, IPCC) and those focused on natural capital (e.g. NCC; DEFRA; IPBES). 


The growing geographic disconnect between consumption of goods and the extraction and processing of resources and environmental impacts associated with production activities makes it crucial to factor global trade into sustainability assessments. Indeed, there is well-documented bias in environmental transfers in favour of net-importing developed nations at the expense of resource-exporting less developed nations. As such, assessing the global natural capital impacts of the UK transition to a low carbon economy requires consideration of the transfer of resources through international trade. The combined model GTAP-WATERGAP model we developed through UKERC discussed above allows the global water use implications of the economic demand for any sector for any country to be quantified, and as such is highly flexible. Importantly, by quantifying both territorial and international demand for water resources, our model is aligned with techniques for consumption-based greenhouse gas emission accounting such as those used for the official headline indicators for the UK Government.

The first stage of this work will be to examine the degree to which the overseas carbon emissions and water use associated with UK-driven energy demand co-vary at national scales, by combining outputs from existing models. Secondly, we will extend the approach for sub-national mapping of impacts developed for water in our GTAP-WATERGAP model to other forms of natural capital; for example minerals and biodiversity (both terrestrial and freshwater). The former will use existing datasets, while the latter be carried out through a Southampton-led PhD studentship examining the potential global biodiversity implications of a UK transition to a low carbon economy. This studentship will involve examining the degree to which current and future UK (and global) energy demand will spatially coincide with areas of known high biodiversity (e.g., biodiversity hotspots, ecoregions) and ranges of species classified as endangered on the IUCN’s Red List. It will also look at potential synergistic impacts of climate change and energy demand on species distribution, building on the extensive bioclimatic niche modelling expertise of Pearson, and on recent work identifying refugia from global synergistic effects of biome shifts and habitat loss. Thirdly, for a number of ES measures (e.g. fresh water, GHG’s, minerals), we will employ modelling techniques developed and used in UKERC Phase 2 (for example hybrid LCAs), existing datasets and literature to disaggregate the broad energy sectors represented in our GTAP-WATER model (e.g. electric, gas) into specific energy technologies. This will provide a novel and detailed understanding of implications of low carbon energy pathways given the set of diverse technologies that are likely to be represented (e.g. nuclear, unconventional gas, etc.).

Finally, we will extend the spatial analysis discussed above to reflect changes in resources out to 2050 given climate change projections, building on recent integration of future scenarios within WATERGAP, as well as the energy pathways being developed during UKERC Phase 3, and projected changes in vegetation, land use and population at the sub-national scale. The goal of this work will be identify where future pinch points in supply chains may exist and where the impact UK energy demand on our current reliance on global ES may increase.


This project will provide a first integrated global-scale assessment across multiple ES and natural capital assets of UK low carbon energy pathways. Our analyses build on current approaches for consumption-based accounting of GHG emissions and as such are well suited to complementing policy within this arena. The studentship will complement Projects 9, 10 & 11 by informing on the global impacts of alternative UK energy scenarios on biodiversity.