Boulton & Watt Lecture – Engineering Society out of Climate Change Baroness Brown – 30 September 2021

Article by Tina Swani

If any of us held any illusion that climate change solutions are adapting fast enough, Baroness Brown put us right with stark and overwhelming evidence, well-researched data and devastating images of catastrophic events that are accelerating in number and scale across our planet.

She informed and challenged us, posing the question “why is Net Zero so important and how do we get there?” 

Julia Elizabeth King, Baroness Brown of Cambridge DBE FRS FRAeS FInstP CEng FREng is a highly respected, experienced British engineer and crossbench member of the House of Lords. She was Vice-Chancellor of Aston University from 2006 to 2016; a Lunar Medal awardee who previously presented to The Lunar Society in 2009 and currently Chair of the UK Climate Change Committee’s Adaptation Committee.

Lunar Society Chair Peter Borg-Bortolo, opened the lecture, as the last of the three Boulton and Watt Lectures organised for 2021. The first, in March 2021, on ‘Nuclear Energy in a Fossil-Fuel Free Society’ delivered by Mr David Dundas, a Fellow of The Lunar Society. Mr Ian Ward, Leader of Birmingham City Council, presented the second lecture in July 2021, on ‘The Future of Transport in Birmingham and the West Midlands’.

In addition to the worldwide impact of global warming, Baroness Brown set out the picture for the UK’s potential future of increased prevalence of uninhabitable homes, water shortages and flooding if we do not adapt with urgency.  Clearer integrated plans are essential, designed to drive rapid transformation, with policy ramped up and embedded to deliver the ambitious emission reduction targets. 

The 2019 report, Net Zero – The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming – Climate Change Committee (, makes the case for the UK to be a world leader in achieving 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 to 2050 – to achieve Net Zero within 30 years and contain temperatures to no more than 1.5oC increase.

Societal behaviour change is critical; unprecedented levels of business and community engagement, education and mobilisation will be necessary for the required pace of momentum on carbon reducing actions across industry, construction, transportation, agriculture, afforestation and energy efficiency.

The lecture enlightened constantly, including the economic importance of low-carbon power generation and surface transport in releasing savings towards Net Zero investment.  Many planners and transport architects already live emission-reduction in their daily work; they have much to contribute, and more so if they relate this overtly and clearly in regeneration plans to assist public understanding and commitment.

So what can we do?  Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time and we hold in our hands the legacy for our future generations.

  • Ask and learn – become enlightened to inform debate
  • Support, lead and live Net Zero action to influence change
  • Raise the priority within personal and professional networks to catalyse action
  • Commit to deliver with equity: those with less resource may have most to lose

As Greta Thunberg says:

“This needs Cathedral Thinking – We can build the foundations without knowing exactly how we will complete the roof”