Addressing the Valuation of Energy & Nature Together

This Grand Challenge project funded by NERC aims to develop conceptual frameworks and modelling tools to integrate the analysis of prospective UK energy pathways with considerations relating to the value of natural capital.  It will quantify the implications of differing future UK low-carbon energy pathways for stocks of natural capital (e.g. groundwater and natural habitats) and for the provision of ecosystem services (e.g. irrigation, visual amenity, recreation). In addition, the project will compare the outcomes of different methodologies to value changes in ecosystem services and provide guidelines regarding the application of such approaches. Ultimately, the project seeks to provide both public and private sector decision makers with tools that allow them to take a whole-systems perspective on energy futures in a way that integrates energy and environmental considerations.

The project involves a set of eight work packages as illustrated below. Following a series of initial workshops a set of future energy pathways will be characterised in detail. Drawing on previous research, the project will then start to examine the anticipated ecosystem service impacts of each particular element of a pathway. This will include a number of case studies to fill identified knowledge gaps on aspects of bioenergy, carbon capture and storage, visual disamenity, impacts on marine recreation biodiversity consequences and the impacts of infrastructure to reduce energy demand.

Drawing on the case study results, the research will then seek to integrate the available evidence so as to assess the environmental impacts of each energy pathway in its entirety.  To that end, the project will build on previous work by extending two complementary modelling platforms. The first is a micro-economic model that allows for a spatially-disaggregated exploration of the impacts of each pathway. The second employs macro-economic modelling to understand how natural capital use in different pathways impacts on the broad functioning of the economy and concomitant implications for growth, jobs and trade. To provide a holistic assessment of each pathway, a further work stream will quantify the international implications for natural capital and ecosystems services of UK decisions on future energy systems.

The final work package will synthesise findings to assess the relative merits of various approaches to evaluating the ES impacts of energy pathways. It will seek to develop advice on how best to use these diverse approaches to enable meaningful comparisons between alternative energy pathways.