Often, when guest speakers are invited to deliver a topical lecture they are selected on the basis of their general popularity and appeal to the wider audience.
However, when it was publicised that Al Gore, former Vice-President of the United States, would be delivering a lecture at Imperial College in December 2017, the excitement was palpable. Less so because of his celebrity-like status and more due to his pioneering role over many years changing politics and business to lead the fight against climate change. The fact that the audience – filled with the brightest students and professionals in science, research and the business community – delivered a rousing standing ovation, underscored the impact of his lecture on a topic already acknowledged as critical.
In just over an hour, Mr Gore talked about his experience in politics, founding the sustainable-focused Generation Investment Management and his optimism for the health of the planet despite recognising the enormous challenge ahead. The lecture was peppered with personal anecdotes, humour and powerful rhetoric, all the while remaining informative and maintaining the quality expected from a veteran of the subject.
The green movement may be facing headwinds from the current US administration. However, progress is more likely to be determined by business and ultimately consumer habits than solely politics. A belief shared by many, but further strengthened when expressed by a former top politician himself. Mr Gore recognised the crucial ongoing work of Imperial College and in particular, the Grantham Institute in their cutting-edge research aiding policymakers and business leaders alike. And when asked by a member of the audience what individuals can do to have a meaningful impact on climate change, his reply was simple yet typically powerful: “Use your choice, use your voice, use your vote”.
While Mr Gore delivered his lecture as part of the Grantham Institute’s 10th anniversary celebrations, the 43 students on the MSc Climate Change, Management & Finance benefit weekly from a wide range of influential speakers throughout industry. The novel scope of the course and reputation of the university lure top executives and professionals active in the field of climate change to deliver their insights and advice.
Tom Delay, Chief Executive of the Carbon Trust talked about the opportunities for environmental consultancies to help develop climate resilient cities in Latin America, while Phillip Bruner, of the start-up Enian communicated his belief that open source data holds the key to assessing the feasibility of renewables power projects. Offering perspectives from the financial industry, Ashim Paun, Director of Climate Change Strategy at HSBC shared his experience of communicating the financial risks of stranded assets to investors, while Simon Wilde, Senior Managing Director at Macquarie shared the importance and opportunities of investing in green infrastructure.
With the career ambitions of the class ranging from entrepreneurship to climate-focused consulting and finance, the Thursday-evening guest speakers are always a highlight and serve as an ideal complement to the more theoretical content of the MSc.
Josh is a student in our MSc Climate Change, Management & Finance 2017-18 class.