Valuing Natural Capital in Low Carbon Energy Pathways

Wind farm set in countryside

Natural capital includes the elements of nature that produce value to people, directly and indirectly, including living aspects of nature as well as non-living, such as minerals and resources. The pursuit of the low carbon agenda holds unusually profound implications for the provision of these ecosystem services going far beyond the protection of the climate. So far, the scientific community and the policy world have given little attention to the low carbon/natural capital nexus. Unless evidence regarding this nexus is generated, unnecessary degradations in wider ecosystem service provision may result and opportunities to exploit synergies may be missed.

To address this, NERC is commissioning a £1·9 million, five-year research programme - Valuing Natural Capital in Low Carbon Energy Pathways - with a consortium project planned to run between 2014-19. It will form part of the NERC contribution to the wider cross-council Energy Programme and falls under NERC's 'Benefiting from natural resources' strategic theme. The programme will generate scientific evidence in the environmental domain to inform the development and management of low carbon pathways.

NERC invests £2 million in exploring low-carbon futures for the UK

30 Jun 2015

NERC is investing up to £2 million in research to investigate how possible future scenarios for UK energy would affect vital resources like groundwater and natural habitats.

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The UK government is committed to ensuring that the value of our natural assets (ecosystems and their living/non-living, renewable/non-renewable components) and the flow of goods and services from them is properly understood and reflected in the economy and policymaking. The value of a particular good or benefit derived from natural capital and/or ecosystem services needs to be expressed in a specific context (eg of decision-making) usually in terms of something that can be counted, often money, but also through methods and measures from other disciplines (eg sociology, ecology etc.).

The overarching aim of this £1.9 million research programme is to understand the implications for natural capital and the provision of ecosystem services of a range of future energy scenarios, including scenarios that are compatible with the UK's energy policy goals of maintaining energy security, keeping energy affordable and cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80% by 2050.

The outcomes of the programme will include:

  • a better integration of the previously separate energy and valuing nature communities
  • the establishment of energy services as key "provisioning" ecosystem services
  • a more comprehensive view of the linkage between natural capital and the decarbonisation agenda
  • the achievement of a genuinely whole-systems approach encompassing the ecological system as a whole and energy systems rather than individual energy chains
  • help for decision-makers by allowing meaningful comparisons between alternative energy and ecological and system pathways and options.

The Valuing Natural Capital in Low Carbon Energy Pathways programme will address some of the key challenges identified within the Sustainable Use of Natural Resources (SUNR) strategic theme of the 2007-2012 NERC Strategy 'Next Generation Science for Planet Earth', as well as delivering against the new NERC Strategy 'The Business of the Environment' theme 'Benefiting from natural resources'.

The scientific focus of the programme will draw on the Valuing Nature Network (VNN) and subsequent Valuing Nature Programme (VNP) and the UKERC energy research community which have so far had little interaction with each other.

It is expected that the successful bidders for the Valuing Natural Capital in Low Carbon Energy Pathways programme will develop their proposals in conjunction with both the UKERC Research Director and the VNP programme coordination team.

Aims and objectives

This programme will address specific research challenges agreed by NERC Council and identified in the science plan:

  • To characterise the impact pathways of specific energy chains and energy infrastructure development in the UK's marine, aquatic, coastal margin and terrestrial environments under a range of energy scenarios.
  • To understand how different means of sourcing energy from outside the UK would impact ecosystem services from a global perspective and to identify options for managing these impacts.
  • To understand the cumulative and indirect effects of energy technologies/ infrastructure over time on the full range of ecosystems services - underpinning, regulating, cultural and provisioning, addressing both economic and non-economic values.
  • To understand better the nexus between energy, land and water and the trade-offs and synergies associated with different patterns of energy development.

The programme will be launched and developed using a facilitated workshop event followed by an open call for proposals. It is not a pre-requisite of submission of an application to the call to have attended the workshop. It is expected that a single consortium will be funded that delivers all of the programme challenges.


2014 - 2019

Can I apply for a grant?

No, there are currently no open announcements.


This programme has a budget of £1·9 million over 5 years.

Consortium Proposals

Following a strategic ideas brokerage workshop in July 2014 consortium proposals were invited for the programme in October 2014. The moderating panel to assess these applications met on 30 January 2015. Details of the successful award are shown in our online grants browser - Grants on the Web (GOTW).

View live details of awards - external link

Consortium proposals evaluation panel membership (PDF, 66KB)

The following documents and links are related to or give more information about this programme.

Science & Implementation Plan (PDF, 344KB)

Valuing Natural Capital in Low Carbon Energy Pathways - Workshop 21-22 July 2014, Warwick Conferences

A two-day facilitated ideas brokerage workshop was held on 21-22 July 2014 at Warwick Conferences. The purpose of the workshop was to build up understanding of the programmes goals and approaches as to how they may be addressed, and to develop innovative ideas and activities for funding.

NERC has allocated £1.9 million (where this is 80% of the full economic costs) to fund the research arising from the workshop and the subsequent call.

It is not a pre-requisite of the subsequent call that the principal or co-investigators attended this event; the call will be open to all those eligible to receive research council funding.

Workshop agenda (PDF, 135KB)

Workshop attendees (PDF, 97KB)

Notes summarising the discussions and ideas generated from the workshop brainstorming activities are provided below. Discussions were based around each of the programme's science goals as detailed in the Science and Implementation Plan, which can be downloaded using the link provided above.

Please note that these were discussions of ideas at the workshop and do not constrain or represent the requirements of proposals. Proposals will be assessed against the Announcement of Opportunity only.

Goal 1 (PDF, 90KB)

Goal 2 (PDF, 70KB)

Goal 3 (PDF, 105KB)

Goal 4 (PDF, 74KB)

The following introductory and scene setting presentations were given:

Welcome and Introduction (PDF, 985KB) - Chris Franklin

UK Energy Research Centre:

Valuing Nature:

ESRC Nexus Network (PDF, 1.6MB) - Ruth Welters

Science Plan (PDF, 395KB) - Jim Skea

Announcement of Opportunity (PDF, 228KB) - Michelle Truman

The following presentations were provided by stakeholders:

Ofgem (PDF, 191KB) - Emma Powell and James Lugar

Met Office (PDF, 1.2MB) - Andy Wiltshire

Natural England (PDF, 191KB) - Tim Sunderland

The following are statements from stakeholders who attended the workshop:

Stakeholders statements (PDF, 77KB)