The Oxford Martin School, a ‘Foresight College’?

The Oxford Martin School is a rather young institute in Oxford, founded only in 2005. Their main intent is ‘envisioning solutions, not listing problems’.  Central to the mission of the Oxford Martin School is the idea that their research should have an impact beyond academia, going further by working with policymakers, practitioners and business leaders to explore and address the most pressing challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.  Therefore, I think we could consider them as a ‘Foresight College’.  It is a community of more than 200 researchers, from Oxford and beyond — even including some of ‘the other university’ (read: ‘Cambridge’) — working to address the most pressing global challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. So, it is relevant following their activities for STOA and other parliamentary research services.

Schermafbeelding 2017-11-13 om 12.00.51

I attended a couple of Oxford Martin School events the past weeks: a two-days conference on circular economy and combatting climate change and some one-hour lectures.

‘Strategic materials for a low-carbon future – From scarcity to availability’

Conference towards circular economy

2 and 3 November, a conference was organized by the Oxford Martin School, focused on circular economy and climate change. As such it was also nicely linked to one of our recently published STOA studies (Circular economy and waste management), I share some impressions and links.

The aim of the conference, which was extremely well attended by prominent academics and politicians and a diverse set of stakeholders from all over the globe, was indeed envisioning solutions, rather than listing the problem. Highlights were the introductory keynote by Sir John Beddington, setting the scene with four assumptions for the next decade: 1. No change in demographic evolution, 2. Overall more prosperity, 3. Growing urbanisation, 4. No change in climate change.

Schermafbeelding 2017-11-13 om 13.41.57Sir John is Senior Adviser, Oxford Martin School. In 2011 we had the honour, at the European Parliament, of having a STOA Lecture by Sir John Beddington, presenting the main findings of the report ‘The Future of Food and Farming (2011)’, issued by the Government Office for Science, London.


Conference highlight: Lecture by Lord Stern

Another Oxford highlight, linked to this conference, was a hugely popular Lecture by Lord Stern: standing-room only in the completely packed enormous University Examination Schools hall.

Lord Stern announcement

He gave an encouragingly optimistic view on combatting climate change. Funny question from the audience during the Q&A session: a student told he had the terrible choice to make between attending this great Lecture and completing an essay the same evening on a climate change issue Lord Stern might help him with, so he asked him the quite technical question.  At the end, the audience reminded Lord Stern he answered all questions except the student’s one, after which Lord Stern made some jokes, but eventually he put the student on the right track!

Looking for solutions towards a sustainable future, involving academics, policymakers, industry, NGOs, …

On Day Two, some industry representatives were raising doubts about the speed of the systemic transition required for a 100% circular economy.  Challenges towards a full circular economy were discussed.  For instance: more waste could be recycled – especially waste water – however, for some products 100% recycling is not environmentally friendly (it is crucial to know the optimal percentage); when rare materials become cheaper from recycling rather than mining, recycling will take over; designers should take into account the ‘end-of-life’ of their products; policy measures might be a stimulating factor towards a circular economy; the ‘nudges’ ideas developed by Nobel Prize Winner Richard Thaler (for his work on behavioural economy) were elaborated on their usefulness for recycling more batteries and so on.

The audience, with a good mix of stakeholders, was indeed more focused on solutions towards a sustainable future than on listing problems…

Oxford Martin School Lecture Series ‘Great Transitions: navigating 21st century challenges’

This lecture series is very popular and so well-attended that the Lecture Theatre of the impressive Oxford Martin School building is too small.  Those who cannot find a place to sit or stand can follow the sessions on a screen in another room, and for those you cannot physically attend, other channels are available: you can watch the one-hour seminar ‘Tipping points to the post-carbon society’, with Prof Doyne Farmer (Director of Complexity Economics – photo at the right) & Prof Cameron Hepburn (photo left), on Youtube.

Professor Cameron Hepburn, an economist with expertise in energy, resources and the environment, is Director of Economics of Sustainability and linked to the Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School.

Cooperation with former European Union Fellow, Peter Vis

Cameron Hepburn also used to work together with a former EU Fellow here, Peter Vis (European Commission). During his stay at the European Studies Centre of St Antony’s College, Peter Vis co-authored with Jos Delbeke, Director-general of DG CLIMA at the European Commission, the book ‘EU Climate Policy Explained’. This book had been presented at the European University Institute in Florence two years ago.

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EU visiting fellow at the European Studies Centre, St Antony's College, University of Oxford

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