Agroforestry could help UK hit carbon emission reduction targets

© University of ReadingResearchers exploring how planting trees alongside crops could help put Britain on track to reduce its climate change impact have been awarded a share of £8.6m funding.

Agroforestry involves farmers planting rows of trees in crop fields to act as greenhouse gas removers. Co-delivery of food and climate regulation by temperate agroforestry, led by Dr Martin Lukac at the University of Reading, is a model-based project examining the potential use of this technique in temperate regions of the UK.

The scientists will estimate how much carbon could be stored in trees and soil. They will also investigate policy and speak directly to farmers to discuss how agroforestry could be made to work in the UK and identify any socio-economic barriers that need to be removed and potential for incorporating the technique into farming practices.

The 18-month project will receive £300,000. Other Reading scientists involved are Dr Joanna Clark, Professor Richard Tranter and Dr Tristan Quaife.

“If the UK is to have any chance of meeting its temperature rise target then we must take action now”

— Dr Martin Lukac, Associate Professor of Agri-Environment, University of Reading

A number of projects aiming to counteract global warming by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere will receive financial support. The funding comes jointly from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The Met Office and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) are providing in-kind support.

Dr Lukac, Associate Professor of Agri-Environment, said: “If the UK is to have any chance of meeting its temperature rise target then we must take action now to begin removing harmful greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

“Agroforestry has been successfully used elsewhere, but Europe is lagging way behind. The technique also offers additional benefits beyond reducing carbon dioxide, including soil protection, nutrient recycling, climate modification beneficial to crops and farm income diversification.”

Challenging target

The UK is committed to the 2015 Paris Agreement to keep global temperature rise well below 2°C and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. Alongside significant emission reductions, large-scale removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere could considerably increase the likelihood of achieving this goal.

Researchers know there are ways to approach this challenge but they have yet to be demonstrated on scales that are climatically-significant. Major questions remain around their feasibility, as well impacts on society and public attitudes.

To help answer these questions, the £8.6 million research programme will evaluate the potential and wider implications of a variety of options. Four interdisciplinary, multi-institute consortium and seven topic-specific projects have been awarded funding. Around 100 researchers from 40 UK universities and partner organisations will be involved, and seven research studentships, providing PhD training will also be supported.

Researchers will investigate the potential for increasing carbon storage in agricultural soil and forests, and new ways to remove methane gas from the air on a local scale. Other researchers will look into using waste materials from mining as a greenhouse gas removal technique, and explore how bioenergy crops could be used in power stations in combination with carbon capture and storage methods.

Recognising that the UK alone cannot solve these problems, the research will address the political, socio-economic, technological and environmental issues concerning the potential for greenhouse gas removal on a global scale.

Professor Tim Wheeler, Director for Science and Innovation at NERC, said: “The UK research community is addressing the challenges of climate change by providing world-leading, independent research to inform decision-making that will ensure future wellbeing and prosperity for the UK and internationally.

“This new Greenhouse Gas Removal programme will shed light on how new approaches could be used to prevent the effects of climate change, alongside reducing emissions, aligning with the UK’s commitment to the 2015 Paris Agreement. This multi-disciplinary research embodies the research councils’ shared commitment to working together to provide vital answers to society’s most pressing questions.”

Details of the other multi-institute consortium projects and topic-specific projects that will receive funding can be found on the NERC website.

Article source: University of Reading