The UK is committed by law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as drivers of climate change to net zero by 2050. A series of policies aimed at reducing these emissions have been identified as part of a wide-ranging net zero strategy. This includes climate change mitigation actions alongside actions to enable society to adapt to the unavoidable consequences of climate change.
In equal partnership with NIHR, UKRI is seeking to establish a set of transdisciplinary research hubs that will provide policy-relevant evidence and deliver high impact solutions-focused research and innovation. The overarching goal is to realise the health co-benefits of the UK’s transition to net zero, in order to protect and promote the physical and mental health of the UK population.
The funding opportunity has four objectives:
- to evaluate the potential health impacts from existing climate change adaptations and mitigations with a view to improving them and realise any potential benefit to human health including reducing health disparities
- to develop and evaluate new adaptations and mitigations to support the UK to reach net zero that protect and promote the health of the UK population. Attention will be paid to the distribution of health impacts across different socio-economic groups
- to develop a standardised way to measure the trade-offs and unintended consequences as part of net zero measures, to optimise interventions and understand the most effective interventions to implement
- to understand how impacts and interventions might vary in the home, workplace or in a variety of healthcare settings
The hubs will form part of a portfolio of investments supporting UKRI and NIHR priorities. Funding is provided partly through the UKRI building a green future theme, as set out in the UKRI strategy 2022 to 2027.
Each hub must:
- draw together an appropriate range of disciplinary research expertise and policymakers in order to co-design and co-lead transdisciplinary research to tackle the complex challenge area or areas. We encourage other relevant stakeholders, including industry, where appropriate
- adopt a holistic and systems approach to research and evaluate the health impacts of net zero policies and identify future strategies where both the benefits and unintended consequences to human health are explored. The potential wide-ranging effects of strategies should be considered to effectively influence future policy decisions, including environmental and socio-economic impacts
- undertake research to identify solutions that improve health outcomes of those most at risk and address health disparities through improved, as well as new and innovative, solutions and policies
- develop a clear and robust set of standardised metrics within the challenge area or areas, to monitor the health and societal impacts of mitigation and adaptation interventions as well as their integration into future policies
- build on, complement and connect with relevant broader initiatives and include existing evidence to ensure impactful outputs. Examples include but are not limited to:
- the UKRI Clean Air Initiative (supported through the Strategic Priority Fund)
- the UKRI UK Climate Resilience Programme
- the pending UKRI Centre in Climate Change and Health
- the NIHR Public Health Research Programme
- the UK Prevention Research Partnership
- consider incorporating further partners as dictated by the specific direction of research during the lifespan of the hub
It will be imperative that the hubs work synergistically to realise the potential joint outputs and knowledge exchange across the research landscape. Hub leads will therefore be required to work proactively to ensure effective join-up and intra-hub networking.
Five UK-focused challenge areas within the net zero and health space have been identified.
You must primarily address one of these challenges within your application to ensure impact within the lifetime of the hub. It is not necessarily expected that all challenge areas will be supported, which will depend on the quality and scope of the applications.
The description of each challenge area is a suggested research area that would be within scope of the funding opportunity. However, we encourage you to think broadly within each challenge and where applicable, identify areas of synergy across challenge areas. Research should be focused both on developing new knowledge and identifying new net zero solutions that protect and promote human health in the UK.
Indoor environments in a net zero world
80% of a typical adult day is spent indoors and indoor air quality remains a public health concern.
A hub would be expected to deliver on researching the health implications of indoor air quality (including the indoor and outdoor interface). For example, research to understand the health impacts in the context of policies to improve energy efficiency of indoor environments in retrofitted and newly constructed net zero buildings as well as changing patterns of behaviour.
This could include a better understanding of indoor air flows and pollution including the toxicology of air contaminants, and the impact of bioaerosoles on health including new knowledge on the transmission of infectious diseases within low carbon buildings.
Research should also focus on identifying effective solutions to improve human health outcomes, where a wide range of factors will need to be considered, including environmental, physical, regulatory, technological and behavioural.
Transportation and the built environment
With the implementation of net zero transport initiatives and broader transformations to the built environment, including green and blue infrastructure, there are likely to be changes to the sources of air pollution and changes in public behaviour.
Research should include understanding the impacts of these to human health including for example, the impacts of low-emission zones and changing traffic flows, electric cars and cleaner combustion engines and health impacts of increased cycling or electric scooters, including the risk of injury.
The role of transport policies in promoting the use of public transport and active travel and its impact on human health should be considered.
New solutions using systems approaches should be focused on improving health outcomes of those most vulnerable.
Sustainable healthy diets
Changes to diet can have effects both on greenhouse gas emission and human health.
Research should provide a better understanding of the health impacts and potential trade-offs (for example, nutritional, food waste, affordability, accessibility) of novel low carbon foods and diets and deliver insight as to where potential barriers exist.
Research on health impacts may include for example, effects on the microbiome, novel allergens, foodborne pathogens and hypersensitivities, and new research which enables informed policy decisions on, and regulation of future low carbon foods.
Research should also focus on innovative ways to take advantage of possible health benefits and mitigate against negative effects, which will require consideration of a wide range of factors and multisectoral challenges including consumer behaviour.
Climate change and associated extreme weather can have significant direct and indirect effects on human health.
This challenge relates to understanding the health impact of actions and policies concerning extreme weather, particularly extreme heat, in the context of the wider climate system, environment and a net zero world. For example, changes in building ventilation rates and air-conditioning use.
New interventions, which may include nature-based solutions, should focus on vulnerable groups, protecting human health and increase the resilience of communities to future forms of extreme weather and its impact on the environment. For example, flooding and wildfires.
Decarbonising health and social care pathways
The NHS is responsible for approximately 4% of the UK’s carbon emissions and represents over 7% of the economy. It is therefore crucial to address the environmental and economic implications of healthcare practices in a net zero world.
This challenge addresses the changing nature of care and aims to identify the carbon impact and material waste associated with emerging health and social care delivery models and pathways.
Whole systems research should include understanding the implications of cost-efficient and environmentally sustainable approaches (for example, new technologies and care delivery models), on managing human disease (for example, chronic disease and multimorbidity).
You should consider the structure of your proposed hub to ensure it can successfully deliver the objectives of the funding opportunity. The structure should allow for multiple institutions, organisations and stakeholders to work in collaboration to ensure impacts are delivered within the lifetime of the hub.
UKRI will host an applicant workshop in Bristol on the 12 and 13 December 2023 following the deadline of the expression of interest stage of the funding opportunity. We strongly encourage attendance at the workshop for all project leads (and members of the research team, depending on demand) that submit an expression of interest. The aims of the workshop are for you to:
- learn more about the aims of the funding opportunity in readiness for the full application
- engage with a diverse set of researchers and stakeholders (including policymakers) beyond existing networks and communities to further develop the strategic, transdisciplinary partnerships necessary to address the challenge areas prior to the full application stage
You can signal your interest in attending the workshop in the expression of interest template.
A Microsoft Teams site will be set up to help connect potential applicants seeking to join emerging hubs and for those hub teams seeking specific expertise. To join the Teams site please email firstname.lastname@example.org
We will fund hubs lasting up to five years.
Due to the nature of the funding available, the hubs will have a fixed start date in summer 2024. The fixed start date will be provided when the full application funding opportunity opens.
The total fund is up to £30 million. You can request up to £6 million per hub (80% FEC) (this would be £7.5 million at 100% FEC), over five years.
What costs we will fund
You can request funding for costs such as:
- a contribution to the salary of the project lead and project co-lead
- support for other posts such as research and technical
- research consumables
- travel costs
- data preservation, data sharing and dissemination costs
- estates and indirect costs
What costs we will not fund
We will not fund:
- research involving randomised trials of clinical treatments
- publication costs
We encourage hub partners within applications where they add significant value to the research. Industry partners will support the hub through appropriate contributions. Hub partners are not required to be detailed at the expression of interest stage.