A report by the Landscape Decisions Programme (led by the University of Leicester, UK) suggests we need to use a broader range of experts to help make decisions regarding how the landscape is managed if the UK is to reach climate targets including net zero. According to the report, these experts should include not only scientists but also artists, business owners, farmers, landowners, and investors.
The UKRI-funded report boasts input from environmental scientists, ecosystem modellers, geographers, humanities scholars, and other experts from Leicester, Exeter, Reading, Leeds, Bangor, Nottingham, Wales Trinity Saint David, and Robert Gordon universities, as well as experts from Rothamsted Research and the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. Overall, the report highlights the negative impact of existing ideas to reach net zero climate targets, including the risk of losing biodiversity and cultural knowledge of the landscape.
“We have an urgent need to think about the culture of change – not just what could be possible on paper. This means a better consideration of the whole picture: social and ethical ideas – the habits of thinking – alongside empirical evidence, taking account of past, present, and future,” said Dr. Katharine Earnshaw, a co-author based in the University of Exeter’s Department of Classics and Ancient History. “This novel report demonstrates the genuine benefits of working across different subjects and with communities and businesses so that we do not reproduce the inequalities that have led us to this crisis.”
The UK government is aiming for a net-zero target by 2050 through various plans, including a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and protection of “carbon sink” areas such as peatlands and forests.
Now, this report recommends a greater focus on land use solutions, in particular looking at local needs and not following a one-size-fits-all approach, which may be damaging in certain environments. In addition to assessing the physical impact, any decisions should also consider social consequences, such as sudden large-scale changes to farming.
“To reach the net-zero goals, we need to make some challenging decisions about the way we use, manage, and interact with landscapes in the UK. These landscape decisions are dependent upon many factors, including the environmental characteristics and the geographic location of the land. Still, in this report, we also consider the wider social framing of these decisions and call for inclusive, place-specific net-zero practices within landscapes that support both biodiversity and people,” said Dr. Beth Cole, Senior Research Fellow for the Landscape Decisions Programme, based at the University of Leicester, and lead author for the report. “Collaborating across disciplines, this group of researchers together make a team that is greater than the sum of its parts and who have broken down some of the silos this urgent issue is normally approached from.”
For the researchers involved in this work, these actions are essential to give us a chance to reach net zero targets, stop biodiversity collapse and prevent social disengagement with landscapes.
“Obviously, there is an urgent need to move towards net-zero landscape decisions to limit the impacts of climate change. However, landscape changes impact a great variety of things – from the carbon and water cycles to biodiversity and local peoples. Only by making interdisciplinary decisions that take these many things into account can we move towards achieving sustainability more broadly – benefiting people and nature. Our report highlights this and provides key recommendations as to how net-zero can be achieved more inclusively,” said Co-author and natural scientist Professor Simon Willcock from Rothamsted Research and Bangor University.
“Our landscapes in the UK are about to change faster than they have done in a long time. These changes are driven by the urgent need to prevent catastrophic climate change by achieving net-zero emissions no later than 2050, reversing the loss of many endangered animal and plant species, as well as improving the food security and livelihoods of our farmers. This report highlights some key recommendations for decision-makers on ethical consideration, participatory approaches and the trade-offs and synergies between different goals and interventions,” concluded Professor Heiko Balzter, Professor of Physical Geography at the University of Leicester and Director of the Centre for Landscape and Climate Research, and is Chair of the Programme Coordination Team for the UKRI Landscape Decisions Programme.
You can read the report ‘Landscape Decisions to Meet Net Zero Carbon: Pathways that consider ethics, socio-ecological diversity, and landscape functions’ in full at landscapedecisions.org.