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Supporting the UK's net zero transition

UK research consortium led by the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) receives £5 million investment to grow national greenhouse gas measurement capability

3 minute read

The National Physical Laboratory (NPL), alongside the National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO), the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS), the University of Bristol, and the James Hutton Institute have been awarded £5m in funding to develop the UK Greenhouse Gas (GHG) measurement capability in support of the UK’s net zero transition.

The investment is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), part of UKRI, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Aligned to the Building a Green Future strategic theme set out in the UKRI strategy, it will improve the UK’s current capability to determine when and where GHGs are being emitted and from which sources.

The investment will focus on the development of ground-based instrument networks that provide essential capability for monitoring the sources and sinks of greenhouse gases in the UK. It will also support the assessment and advancement in using space-based measurements of atmospheric greenhouse gases. The investment in capability will bolster efforts to improve national greenhouse gas data, which provide powerful and timely insight into the UK’s net zero transition.

Achieving UK emission reduction targets and limiting global warming in line with the Paris Agreement target of 1.5 °C is a significant challenge. The UK government has committed through the Climate Change Act 2008 to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and the Sixth Carbon Budget brings greater clarity and guidance on the pathway the UK must follow. Beneath the ambition is a highly complex societal challenge for which measurements lie at the heart of the solution. The UK must be able to accurately measure and assess changes in atmospheric GHGs, and be able to attribute those changes in source emissions as well.

The beneficiaries of the new funding will work alongside the Met Office and continue to collaborate and seek new opportunities to further their work in support of this critical area.

Tom Gardiner, Principal Research Scientist, NPL, said: “Valid knowledge of GHG emissions is crucial to demonstrating progress towards net zero. This capability investment is part of a longer-term goal to develop an integrated system to provide independent evidence of changes to GHG sources and sinks, underpinned by the latest atmospheric science and metrology. We will be working closely with partners to utilise UK expertise and support national and international climate targets.” 

Professor Paul Palmer, Science Director, NCEO, said: “UK GHG emission estimates inferred from the atmospheric data we collect provide an independent verification of our ability to meet our net-zero commitments, with the empirical evidence laid out in a transparent manner. This work also lays the foundation for our future use of satellite measurements of GHGs thereby future proofing the integrated measurement system we develop.”

Matt Rigby, Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry at the University of Bristol, said: “The UK has a world-leading system for measuring greenhouse gases and is one of only a handful of countries that use atmospheric observations to evaluate its emissions reports. This funding is the first step towards a next-generation system that can estimate emissions in a timelier manner and with more detailed information on major source sectors and regions.”

Alistair Manning, Scientific Manager at the Met Office, said: "This investment in better understanding UK emissions will enable us to quantify our progress to meeting net zero and the UK's contribution to ensuring we keep global warming as close to 1.5C by the end of the century as possible."

Dr Grant Forster, Research Scientist and Joint Deputy Head of the Atmospheric Measurement and Observation Facility says: “It's very exciting that measurements from the National Centre for Atmospheric Science’s Weybourne Atmospheric Observatory will be part of this national collaboration. Our observations will provide independent verification of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions. Bringing together the UK’s ground-based greenhouse gas measurement capability will also better support modelling activities, which will allow us to track the UK's progress towards achieving net zero”

Dr Barbara Brooks, Scientific Services, Facilities, and Training Director at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science states: “The National Centre for Atmospheric Science already contributes to a vast network of observatories and ground-based monitoring activities. We’re delighted to be part of a new national effort to improve the current capabilities of the UK research community, build a more detailed understanding of greenhouse gas emissions, and provide better evidence about the effectiveness of net zero related measures".



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23 Nov 2022