Artificial intelligence research to enable UK’s net zero target

5 members of the NetZeroPlus team have been awarded funding from UKRI’s artificial intelligence (AI) in addressing net zero challenges call; a research programme to find solutions for net zero challenges through the development and use of AI. The funding aims to provide solutions to support society in delivering greenhouse gas emission reductions and find innovative solutions to net zero challenges.

The new project, led by Professor Danny Williamson, (lead for the AI within NetZeroPlus) will run for 23 months, through to 31 march 2025. It will focus on providing decision support for the rapid expansion of UK woodland, which in the 2021 UK Government Environment Act was set as an ambitious (and legally-binding) target of half a million hectares of new trees. The imperative to meet the UK Net Zero by 2050 ambition, including greenhouse gas removal to remove carbon and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, will need support from research communities, who can provide the latest scientific, socio-economic and social science data to support decision making.



ADD-TREES: AI-elevated Decision-support via Digital Twins for Restoring and Enhancing Ecosystem Services

Through this research project, the team will help move the knowledge embedded in the science community’s latest modelling and data into the hands of the users that will shape the UK’s Net Zero contribution from trees. Working with our project partners at Defra, National Trust, Forestry England, the Ministry of Defence, the National Forest Company, Network Rail and Woodland Trust, the academic team will use AI methods to power decision support tools, with fast running modelling capacity, to provide users (including our project partners) with unprecedented capability to explore tree-planting options, and see the potential consequences of different options over many years.

In this project, the AI will be developed even further than in NetZeroPlus to assemble user-bespoke AI-enhanced decision support tools, which can be shaped and scaled to the exact requirements of any user or organisation, to deliver UK woodland expansion for Net Zero. The powerful AI brings together the latest scientific, socio-economic and social science data, in a uniquely accessible and ‘real-time’ format, and places it in the hands of policy makers and large land-owning organisations to support their decision making. The decisions taken over the next decade will decide the UK’s net zero contribution from trees, shape the UK countryside for generations to come and have real world consequences for the global biodiversity and climate challenges.

Building a UK AI net zero community

The funding also seeks to build a new community of AI experts working in close collaboration with net zero researchers to develop new AI tools and techniques to overcome key net zero challenges. It is also intended to create a broad AI for net zero research community that includes both AI and net zero researchers. Researchers working on the AI4NetZero project will be encouraged and supported to contribute to this developing community of research and practice.