"Challenges of the early 21st century" by Prof Sir John Beddington

Past Event

02 June 2014, 1:15pm - 2:00pm


This seminar is hosted by the Plants for the 21st Century Institute, an Oxford Martin School Institute

Speaker: Professor Sir John Beddington CMG FRS, Senior Adviser, Oxford Martin School and Professor of Natural Resources Management, University of Oxford

Summary: The latter half of the 20th century was a period of massive population growth, significant poverty, the over exploitation of natural resources and substantial pollution including greenhouse gas emissions . The related challenges posed in the early decades of the 21st century are in many ways inexorable and complicated by economic, social demographic and environmental change. This talk will focus on these challenges and some of the ways they may be addressed.

Venue: Department of Plant Sciences, Large Lecture Theatre, Oxford

About the speaker

Between January 2008 and the end of March 2013, Sir John was the Government Chief Scientific Adviser and Head of the Government Office for Science. He reported directly to the Prime Minister and attended Cabinet Sub-committees and, on occasion, Cabinet. He had access to and numerous interactions with various Secretaries of State and his formal reporting line was to the Cabinet Secretary. He was Head of Profession for Science and Engineering in Government and founded the Government Science and Engineering Network. He headed the group of Chief Scientific Advisers in Government.

He chaired the National Security Council Science Advisory Group and the Science Advisory Group in Emergencies reporting into the COBR Committee. His experience was in three rather different emergencies: the pandemic influenza outbreak in 2009, the volcanic ash closure of UK air space in 2010 and problems linked to the earthquake and tsunami affecting the nuclear plants in Fukushima in Japan in 2011.

He directed the Foresight team which had the responsibility to look forward and assess implications for major challenges in the future. Typical timescales ranged from 10 to as much as 40 years. The reports produced by the Foresight team are substantial, typically projects may involve some 400 contributors from around 40 countries. The subjects studied are highly variable and involve substantial multi-disciplinary work.

Since taking up his position, the following reports were published: The Future of Identity (2013); Computer Trading in Financial Markets (2012); Migration and Global Environmental Change (2011); International Dimensions of Climate Change (2011); Global Food and Farming Future (2011); Land Use Futures (2010); Mental Capital and Wellbeing (2008); Sustainable Energy Management and the Built Environment (2008).

Sir John co-chaired with Dame Nancy Rothwell the PM’s Council for Science and Technology. This group is the main advisory group to the PM and it produced in the last few years a number of significant reports in response to requests from the PM and Cabinet. Some examples are: The NHS as a driver for growth (2011), A Vision for UK Research (2010), A national infrastructure for the 21st century (2010), Improving innovation in the water industry: 21st century challenges and opportunities (2009) and How academia and government can work together (2008).

Sir John was involved in heading the UK delegation to a number of joint science and technology commissions with a variety of countries. The key ones were with Japan, Russia, Brazil, China, India, Vietnam and Thailand. In addition, there were clear links with the USA where he interacted regularly with his counterpart, John Holdren, who is the Science Adviser to President Obama.

During 2011, at the request of the World Bank, he chaired an International Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change