The UK Government is committed to developing UK low-carbon energy pathways with the recent 25 year environment plan also demonstrating key commitments to maintaining and improving UK Natural Capital. The trend towards energy system decarbonisation and decentralisation has created a growing awareness of the potential interactions with the environment and land use. Whilst this shift could alleviate pressures on natural resources and provide co-benefits, it could also lead to negative impacts.

Future energy pathways that envisage more wind farms, solar arrays and significant land use and infrastructure associated with BECCS have implications for the quality of the natural landscape and the cultural ecosystem services people derive from the visual enjoyment of those landscapes. Embedding environmental research into the design of UK energy systems is therefore required (Holland et al, 2018). This would support delivery of the 2018 Defra 25 Year Environmental Plan and other policy objectives.

This theme will apply ecosystem service and natural capital approaches to understand the environmental implications of changes in the UK energy system. Using a range of spatially resolved approaches, it will provide new tools for decision-makers that allow them to take a whole-systems perspective to help maximise societal benefits. It will build on previous UKERC research (particularly the ADVENT challenge programme), link to new initiatives (e.g. the Isaac Newton Institute programme on landscape decisions) and include new partners and methods.

The proposal is innovative in being stakeholder guided from the proposal stage, ensuring outputs have a direct policy impact. Ultimately, the project seeks to provide policy makers with tools that allow them to take a whole-systems perspective on energy futures in a way that integrates energy and environmental considerations into a single framework. Together, the new knowledge and expertise delivered by the project will provide a major contribution to ensuring that energy and natural capital policies can be developed in a coherent manner for the maximal benefit of society as a whole.