Skip to content Skip to navigation

Macaulay Lectures

Each year the Trust, in partnership with The James Hutton Institute, organise the annual Macaulay lecture.

The aim of the lecture is to stimulate thinking and dialogue about contemporary environmental issues in order to honour the vision of Dr T B Macaulay from whose endowment in 1930 both the Trust and the Hutton trace their origins. Further information about Dr Macaulay can be found here.

The lectures are aimed at an informed, professional audience and each one is given by a world renown academic. An archive of recent lectures is available here.

43rd TB Macaulay Lecture: outrage and optimism in the face of the climate crisis

How do climate negotiations take place and why is progress so slow? How can governments, scientists and activists work together to tackle the climate emergency for everyone's benefit? These questions, and many others, were at the heart of the 43rd TB Macaulay Lecture, led by Christiana Figueres, former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in conversation with Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, and youth climate activists Anuna De Wever, Lola Segers and Julieta Martinez.

During the lecture, Ms Figueres described her dissatisfaction with the sometimes slow progress of climate negotiations, but she also highlighted where advances have been made and reasons to be optimistic. She also emphasized the role of science in driving the conversation about climate change and holding world leaders to account. You can watch the 43rd TB Macaulay Lecture on its dedicated website or below.

42nd T B Macaulay Lecture - A Green and Prosperous Land

With news about our climate, ecosystems and wildlife tending to be grim, there are few who could argue action must be taken and taken quickly. The 42nd TB Macaulay Lecture, Green and Prosperous Land, focussed on Professor Helm's radical but tangible plan for positive change.

The pragmatic approach taken by Professor Helm towards environmentalism includes a summary of Britain’s green assets, a look towards possible futures and an achievable 25-year plan for a green and prosperous country. This bold generational plan assesses the environment as a whole, explains the necessity of protecting and enhancing our green spaces and offers a clear, financially sound strategy to put Britain on a greener path.

Helm’s arguments expose the economic inefficiencies in our environmental policies and thus highlights the need for change. Leaving behind the current sterile and ineffective battle between the environment and the economy, this revolutionary plan champions the integration of the economy and the environment together to deliver sustainable, eco-friendly economic growth. There is hope, and there is time, but we must act now, Professor Helm argues.

You can watch Professor Helm's lecture here:

41st T B Macaulay Lecture - The challenge of sustainable development: from global UN policy to local community survival in the face of climate change

The 41st TB Macaulay Lecture focussed on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and Professor McGlade discussed the lives and experiences of those facing the day-to-day challenges associated with climate change. She shared insights from her work in Kenya, and drew on her experience at the UN, and shared lessons learnt during the development and implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, as well as their practical impact.

You can watch a video recording of the 41st TB Macaulay Lecture here:

40th T B Macaulay Lecture - Prosperity without Growth: Foundations for the Economy of Tomorrow

Professor Jackson’s book, “Prosperity without Growth”, is a world-renowned landmark in the sustainability debate. Originally published at the outset of the global financial crisis, Jackson's seminal work challenges orthodoxies, causing us to question the primacy of economic growth at all costs, and has drawn praise across the world from politicians to Nobel Prize-winning economists. 

Against a backdrop of Brexit, and ongoing debate over Scotland's economy and where growth could or should come from in the future, Professor Jackson showed how we can exist within the ecological limits of our planet and helped us understand how we can chart a course to a new longer-lasting prosperity.

For the first time in the 40-year history of the TB Macaulay Lecture, the lecture was streamed in real-time to viewers across the world through the James Hutton Institute's YouTube channel.

Prof Jackson also discussed how much Scotland has changed both economically and socio-politically in recent years, focussing in particular on Brexit from a Scottish perspective; on how Scotland can develop its economy; and on how economically autonomous Scotland can be in a globalised world facing major environmental challenges.

39th T B Macaulay Lecture - The UN Sustainable Development Goals and the dynamics of well-being

The publication of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 is the public expression of a global consensus regarding a desired pathway for our future. The 17 goals and the 169 targets indicate the areas where progress is needed and help to focus the attention of researchers, policy-makers and practitioners. However, the publication fails to clarify how the goals and targets interconnect, including trade-offs and synergies that need to be resolved to avoid unintended consequences. Achieving the promise of the full suite of the Sustainable Development goals requires the development of three additional elements:

  1. new aggregated indicators or measures of human and ecosystem well-being;
  2. new dynamic models of the integrated system of humans and the natural world, and
  3. innovative ways to build broad public consensus on the future we want and best to achieve this.

A recording of the 39th Macaulay Lecture is available below:

38th T B Macaulay Lecture - Global soil biodiversity: establishing common ground for sustainability

Soils are home to a vast diversity of life that is essential for a variety of ecosystem functions – from the tiniest microbes to larger soil animals and plant roots. The UN has designated 2015 as the International Year of Soils to acknowledge their importance and to raise awareness on the need to protect this valuable resource for future generations. Although it is well established that soil organisms provide essential services including decomposition of organic matter, nutrient cycling, cleansing of water, and regulation of pests, the complex relationships in soil are often overlooked in management and policy decisions. The Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative (GSBI) was established in 2011with the goal of advancing the knowledge of soil biodiversity science. The GSBI aims to increase the implementation of findings on the benefits of soil biodiversity and identify ways to restore, conserve and promote soils and soil biodiversity. Scientists investigating life in the soil emphasize the critical role of soil biodiversity at all trophic levels to soil functioning and plant production, and thus, our reliance on living soils for a sustainable future.

37th T B Macaulay Lecture - Policy, Practice, Science and My Distant Relatives

The lecture tackled the challenge posed by increased calls for policy developers and decision-makers in Scotland to base their decisions more firmly on the underlying science. Professor Sutherland argued that the current processes often lead to poor and slow decisions and the inefficient or problematic use of resources. He outlined various problems and described methods that can help individual policy developers and decision-makers and also improve the decision-making processes.

36th T B Macaulay Lecture - Conservation and the End of Nature

In the 21st century, the scale and intensity of human impacts on the biosphere and biodiversity are widely recognised: we live in the Anthropocene, the era of humankind. Through the 20th century the conservation movement developed strategies to defend nature from human pressure. There have been successes but human impacts continue to grow.

Impoverished and novel ecosystems are being created that have no exact 'natural' analogue. These make any simple idea of 'naturalness' profoundly problematic and challenge our understanding of conservation. Are current conservation strategies suited to future challenges? Do they need to change, and if so how?

35th T B Macaulay Lecture - The Sustainable Intensification of Agriculture: Options and Challenges

Achieving increased levels of productivity using existing land whilst causing minimal environmental damage is one of the greatest challenges of modern agriculture.  Sustainable intensification, as the concept is known, was the subject of the 35th T.B. Macaulay Lecture, delivered by Professor Jules Pretty OBE, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Essex.

34th T B Macaulay Lecture - Science-based policy-making: whose evidence is it really?

Europe’s populations and economies fundamentally depend on the supplies of food, water, energy, and material - from within and beyond the borders of Europe. But is this stock of natural capital being used sustainably and are the environmental resources secure enough to sustain today’s economies and people in good health? Are we using resources efficiently and can we really decouple further economic development from the use of resources and their environmental impacts?

To address these depends critically on the availability of, and access to, reliable environmental information, but there are sometimes vested interests entangled in much of the evidence brought forward to support various policies and actions.  This lecture will examine the differing roles of academics, research institutions and independent bodies in creating the sufficiently robust evidence for policy-makers and ask whether today we are seeing evidence-based policy making or policy-based evidence.