Supporting government: NERC science produces solutions that benefit the UK economy and society

Our investment helps to shape and strengthen policies and decisions made at every level of government, including Parliament, central government, the devolved administrations, local government and government agencies.

Why it matters

The interests of government, society and the environment are inextricably linked. Each citizen depends on having a productive, healthy and resilient environment that contributes to the UK’s prosperity and wellbeing. From tackling challenges such as climate change, to seizing the opportunities offered by clean growth, environmental science lies at the heart of many key government actions and initiatives, such as the Industrial, Clean Growth and Clean Air Strategies and the 25-year Environment Plan.

What we did

NERC science has underpinned government policies for over 50 years and enabled the UK to take the global lead on a whole range of critical issues. We work hand in hand with government, business and wider society to identify sustainable new ways of boosting prosperity and escaping poverty, and to produce practical solutions to real-world challenges with an environmental dimension. Our funding for world-leading environmental science and scientists, combined with our support for long-term, large-scale research, provides government with robust, independent evidence and advice from experts that not only underpins policies and services but also enables the UK to meet its international commitments. We also ensure government rapid access to research infrastructure and expert advice during emergencies.

Below, we present a selection of impacts and benefits that our investment in cutting-edge environmental science has delivered across the remit of government.

A productive partnership

Key facts and figures (2013-17):

  • £27m contributed by the public sector to NERC initiatives, adding to our investment of £227m.
  • 230 NERC grants* delivered in partnership with over 120 different public sector organisations.
  • 1,220 NERC research papers** co-authored with over 100 different public sector partners.

* 8% of the total ** 6% of the total

NERC solutions delivered across the public sector benefit UK economy and society

Diagram showing the decision-making process for NERC investment in research, infrastructure and skills

NERC science: impacts and benefits

Reducing risks, saving lives

As members of the UK’s Natural Hazards Partnership (NHP), four of NERC’s research centres help government at all levels to better prepare for, and respond to, natural hazards such as storms and flooding. In 2017, its rapid and comprehensive advice equipped the Scottish Government to make a proportionate response to Storm Ophelia.

Beneficiaries: Cabinet Office/Scottish Government/local authorities/emergency services

Enabling agenda-setting TV

NERC research helps shape high-profile BBC documentaries such as Blue Planet II – extraordinary TV watched by millions around the world. Transforming perceptions of issues such as plastic pollution, changing people’s behaviour and driving public policy, these programmes promote a positive image of the UK as a global leader in science and culture.

Beneficiaries: DCMS/FCO

Preparing better for bad weather

NERC-backed breakthroughs in computer modelling and atmospheric measurements have enhanced the accuracy and predictive capability of Met Office forecasts. Benefits include an annual £76-£127m reduction in flood damage, fewer cold-related deaths and reduced road-salt stockpiling.

Beneficiaries: Defra/DfT/DHSC/local authorities


Catalysing urgent environmental action

Long-term NERC-funded studies provided the evidence that enabled government action to reduce plastic pollution by banning plastic microbeads, reduce the risk to pollinating insects by banning neonicotinoid pesticides and protecting the ozone layer by phasing out ozone-depleting substances.

Beneficiaries: Defra/UK Parliament

Keeping transport moving

Rapid deployment of the FAAM research aircraft, plus NERC-funded science and expertise, played a pivotal role in defusing the crisis caused by volcanic eruptions in Iceland in 2010-11. Using precise measurements plus advice from experts, the Civil Aviation Authority was able to introduce new regulations to re-open airspace – saving airlines up to £290m per day.

Beneficiaries: DfT/Cabinet Office

Underpinning international commitments

Through its bases, ships and aircraft, NERC’s British Antarctic Survey (BAS) provides a visible illustration of the UK government’s commitment to the polar regions. BAS also enables the FCO to focus on Arctic affairs and maintain a leadership position within the Antarctic Treaty System.

Beneficiary: FCO


Strengthening defence

As a strategic partner of the MoD, our National Oceanography Centre boosts UK defence and security by providing specialist capability in autonomous underwater vehicles, remote sensing, anti-mine measures and understanding of the marine/coastal environment.

Beneficiary: MoD

Informing policy

NERC research has long underpinned the government’s approach to environmental issues, including the UK’s 25-year Environment Plan, the UK Climate Change Act 2008, UK Climate Projections for the 21st century, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that form the cornerstone of global climate negotiations.

Beneficiaries: Defra/BEIS

Big Ben situated in London

Investing for the future

Contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals

9 industry, innovation and infrastruture
11 sustainable cities and communities
17 partnerships for the goals

We will continue to help government and other public sector organisations access the best science, skills and data. We are leading four UK partnerships with government and other partners, tackling major challenges by delivering high-quality interdisciplinary research through the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund. With a total value of £59m, these are addressing clean air, climate resilience, landscape decisions and digital environment solutions.

NERC is also an active member of, and provide the Secretariat for, the Research & Innovation for our Dynamic Environment (RIDE Forum); comprising 20 public sector organisations who hold a stake in environmental change research, innovation, training and capabilities. The Forum aims to help provide decision-makers with the co-ordinated knowledge they need to respond to the challenges and opportunities presented by environmental change.

Evidence sources for this case study are listed in the PDF version, available in the downloads section.