Sterling support for a greener tomorrow

'Living' multipartner programme to tackle climate change nets £1bn in funding. Zoe Corbyn reports

June 26, 2008

The chairman of the UK Government's Living with Environmental Change (LWEC) programme acknowledges that its acronym is rather inelegant. "But it is at least one that can be remembered," said Lord Selborne.

Given that the ten-year programme is worth about £1 billion over its first five years, LWEC - pronounced "el-wec" - may be tripping off tongues regularly before too long.

The programme aims to fund research into how we live with climate change and provide the scientific evidence base that policymakers need to make decisions on managing its impact. Although it has been on the scene since last year, it was officially launched last week, with an emphasis on the role of researchers.

LWEC currently has 17 partners from across research councils and university departments, and it is hoping to attract more.

The Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc) is leading the programme. Altogether the research councils plan to channel £360 million of their £8.2 billion three-year budget into LWEC. The programme so far lacks industrial partners but that may change following discussions with the Technology Strategy Board.

Speaking at the programme's launch, Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for the Environment, said: "Climate change is the biggest challenge we face on the Earth ... (we) need a big response and that is what LWEC is all about."

Alan Thorpe, the chief executive of Nerc, said: "The fact that we are coming together to do this rather than just working on our own is a huge sea change."

LWEC is an umbrella for projects and programmes that specifically connect to end use and policymaking, Professor Thorpe said, stressing that other channels for blue-skies climate-change research remained.

The programme has been designed as a partnership to try to avoid duplication and speed up delivery of results to policymakers. It is multidisciplinary so there is space for researchers in many fields.

While the partners are still working on the detailed design - the plan is for a "living" programme that can change with needs and priorities - funding is not standing still.

Some calls have already been issued (see http://tinyurl.com/6q454v), and more are expected over the next few months. The recruitment of a director is in full swing, and more specific LWEC priorities are set to emerge as a result of a partners' meeting on 20 June.

Under the programme, groups of partners come together to define an opportunity that is in line with LWEC objectives. There are six objectives in total, although details of the objectives are still in flux.

The first and second objectives, both led by Nerc and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, concentrate on predicting the impacts of climate change - such as flooding risks in different areas of the UK - and working out how to value the environment. Others, led by different partners, focus on securing water and food supplies; protecting human, plant and animal health as new diseases emerge; and making the built environment and transport systems more resilient as the climate changes. The final objective, led by the Economic and Social Research Council, is how to help different groups of people respond to the changing environment.

Of LWEC's £1 billion in funding, only 10 per cent will be used for funding projects designed by the partnership. The rest will pay for existing and planned activities of the LWEC partners. To be funded under the LWEC banner, activities must align with LWEC objectives, and there will be a "vigorous accreditation process", Professor Thorpe said.

"It will join up activities across the partners in a way that was inconceivable before LWEC," he said, pointing out that the programme would create new opportunities for researchers.

One partner planning to take a hard look at its own research strategy is Defra. According to Bob Watson, its chief scientific adviser, researchers should "absolutely" expect to see changes.

"We have got four research programmes. They do talk to each other to some degree but ... it has got to be a much more holistic programme that then integrates within the LWEC itself," said Dr Watson.

Defra is planning a workshop on its own strategy in September.

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com

See: www.lwec.org.uk.

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