A tale of two Tories

15 Jul 2014


What are the implications of the government's dramatic reshuffle for the green economy? The truth is that this is a reshuffle that is thus-far defying attempts to impose upon it a clear narrative - beyond Number 10's heavily spun suggestion that it is replacing middle aged white men with more women - and this appears to be particularly true for environmental and climate change policy.

The environmentalists' bogeyman Owen Paterson may have been sacked in reportedly intemperate circumstances, but his ministerial antithesis, climate change champion Greg Barker, is also stepping down. The incoming team with responsibility for environmental issues - Liz Truss at Defra, Matthew Hancock and Amber Rudd at DECC - are all on record as supporting action to tackle climate change, which represents a distinct improvement on Paterson. But equally none of them has a track record of campaigning on environmental issues and, in the case of Hancock in particular, their support for clean technology and renewable energy has been decidedly mixed.

Only time will tell how these Ministers respond to the challenges and opportunities presented by the green economy, and the reality is that with less than a year to the next election they do not have long to deliver much of an impact in either way. But there is a risk these changes could end up as a further blow to the increasingly battered green wing of the Conservative Party - they certainly don't signal that David Cameron is preparing to make ‘Vote Blue, go green' a central plank of his election strategy for a second time. The confusion that increasingly characterises the Conservative Party's approach to climate change - an issue that the Prime Minister still apparently regards as one of the biggest threats faced by the UK - is more evident than ever.

This confusion is particularly apparent in the contrasting fates and conflicting records of the two high profile green departures from the government, Paterson and Barker.

Paterson's sacking is undoubtedly good news for the green economy. Some of the criticism of the outgoing Environment Secretary has been unfair, and his willingness to defend the Environment Agency during last winter's floods and his delivery of Fisheries Policy reforms deserves some credit. But his dismissive attitude to climate change risks, mishandling of the badger cull, and staggeringly slow progress on water and waste policy mean there will be few green business executives who will miss Paterson. He liked to position himself as pro-business and he certainly won friends in the agri-business lobby, but I have lost count of the number of senior executives I've spoken to who despaired of Paterson's simplistically dismissive attitude to environmental regulation, the green economy, and climate change science.

Ultimately though, I doubt it was Paterson's climate change scepticism that lost him his job, as much as questions over his day-to-day performance. Plenty of commentators in the right wing media have bemoaned his departure from Defra, but few could point to any major achievements beyond his status as a Eurosceptic standard bearer. I was once informed by a reliable source that when he was appointed to the role Paterson was instructed by the Prime Minister to serve as a safe pair of hands and make sure nothing went wrong with the badger cull or Defra's challenging cuts programme. The badger's memorable "moving of the goalposts" and the scandal of cutting flood management budgets as parts of England were submerged soon put paid to those twin goals. Add in an approach to media appearances that always felt as if interviews could end up becoming somewhat combustible and it is easy to see how Cameron would have asked himself, 'will giving Paterson a prominent role help me win the next election?' and answered firmly in the negative.

In contrast, Greg Barker has received numerous plaudits from green campaigners and business leaders since it was confirmed last night that he was to step down. As with Paterson there is a case for a more balanced assessment of his record, particularly given the continued travails faced by the Green Deal scheme and the fact the government is now on the hook for a £132m compensation claim relating to unlawful changes to the feed-in tariff incentive. And yet, Barker's unrelenting optimism and fierce support for a green economic transition which he understands is both essential and entirely compatible with Conservatism won him deserved praise from across the business and NGO community. He was willing to make the case for ambitious action on climate change and highlight the merits of the green economy at a time when several of his colleagues were expressing barely concealed hostility towards both concepts. His resignation letter features a list of green achievements, from the introduction of the Green Investment Bank to the world's first Renewable Heat Incentive, that Barker can be rightly proud of.

Significantly, Barker remains good friends with the Prime Minister and it is to be hoped that he will fulfill his pledge to now work with Number 10 on the "formulation of an exciting and ambitious set of green policies to take to take to the country at the next General Election". And yet, this reshuffle feels like it could prove to be, if not the end of an era, then a late staging post on the road towards the end of the once ambitiously green, localist, Big Society Cameroonian vision.

It is too early to judge the new Conservative environment and energy ministers, but it is clear that if there are no natural successors to Paterson, there are no natural successors to Barker either - a fact only underlined by the bizarre decision to appoint Rudd as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Climate Change, rather than Minister for Climate Change, an admittedly minor change that still feels like a downgrading of climate change on the list of government priorities. Equally, the culling of moderates such as Ken Clarke, David Willetts, and - worst of all for the balance of climate warriors in cabinet - William Hague, suggests Lynton Crosby has called time on the modernisation project once and for all.

Truss, Hancock, and Rudd may yet earn their reputations for pragmatism by looking dispassionately at the climate risks the UK faces and concluding more ambitious action on decarbonisation is required. But it is notable so few of the new wave of Conservative up-and-comers have lobbied for a bolder position on climate change and green business issues in the way that Barker once did. As prospective London Mayoral candidate Michael Liebreich has demonstrated it is possible to be a radical Conservative voice while recognising the necessity and attractiveness of decarbonisation. It is surprising more of the 2010 in-take have not attempted to emulate his thinking. 

Of course, the erstwhile driving force behind green Conservatism remains in Number 10 and as such I suspect the Party's manifesto will find a way to incorporate a number of positive environmental policies, not least because the complete ditching of the environmental agenda would leave Cameron open to justified accusations of hypocrisy. But at the same time, George Osborne and Lynton Crosby's influence over the party is more pronounced than ever, bringing with it at best a desire to push environmental issues down the political agenda and at worst a suspicion of the green economy.

Consequently, the battle between the green Conservatism embodied by Barker and the climate reckless, short termism defined by Paterson shows few signs of being resolved any time soon. If the departure of Paterson represents a victory for the Tory modernisers (and for all the Eurosceptic backbenchers lamenting his departure there are a fair few of his colleagues who will be absolutely delighted at his ignominious exit from government), the ongoing failure of the Prime Minister to publicly encourage the soon to be depleted green wing of his Party is a serious cause for concern. This encouragement is needed now more than ever, given that today saw the government's own independent advisers warn the UK is slipping off course in its attempts to decarbonise in the most cost-effective manner possible.

I hope I'm proved wrong, but until the Conservative Party leadership resolves some of its serious internal tensions over climate and environment issues it is hard to see how any reshuffle could deliver the more ambitious decarbonisation policies the green economy so urgently needs. The once clear narrative on green Conservatism is being squandered and it is ultimately up to the Prime Minister to restore it.

Tony Abbott: Not very repealing

11 Jul 2014

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott

There is much wry amusement in environmental circles today, after Tony Abbott, Australia's climate-reckless Prime Minister, saw his plans to repeal the country's carbon tax blocked by the Senate. Any sense of schadenfreude (I know it's an unappealing trait, but sometimes it's very hard to resist) was only amplified when it emerged that the Australian edition of The Spectator had already gone to press with a cover splash celebrating Abbott's "victory" and a borderline onanistic editorial congratulating itself over its role in bringing an end to "global warming alarmism".

Writing as a journalist who has often experienced the surging fear that a story written in preparation of an announcement may have been mistakenly published it is hard not to have a modicum of sympathy for the team at The Spectator – leaving aside, of course, the fact that this is a publication that routinely treats the biggest environmental crisis the world faces with all the maturity and sophistication of the sixth form common room that so many of its columnists seem to wish they had never left. Most journalists will read The Spectator's premature plea to "allow us a little gloating" and think there but for the grace of God go I.

But if the embarrassing timing of The Spectator's publication – not to mention the amusingly hyperbolic self-revelation of its core mission as being to stand "athwart history, yelling stop" – is ultimately of little consequence, the remarkably misguided analysis that has attached itself to Abbott's laughably cack-handed attempts to repeal Australia's carbon tax does matter.

Unfortunately, the likelihood remains that Abbott will eventually find a way to appease the Palmer United Party after it blocked the repeal legislation at the 11th hour. Commentators are predicting Abbott will secure his delayed victory in the coming weeks. But the latest developments contain two important lessons for both policy makers and business leaders around the world.

The first is that if it is difficult to pass environmental legislation, it is even harder to repeal it. It has taken Abbott no end of horse-trading and a huge amount of political capital to get even this far and all he is trying to do is to repeal a relatively modest tax that will deal a major blow to Australia's green economy, but will have a negligible impact on wider energy costs and competitiveness. And this is in a country with a hugely powerful right wing political and media elite and arguably the most well-established climate-sceptic network in the world.

In other countries repealing environmental legislation is even harder. Outside of the Anglosphere polls have shown that climate scepticism has next to no sway, either with the public or in the corridors of power. Meanwhile, in the US, President Obama's climate strategy is based on a Supreme Court ruling that requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Even if the GOP retake the White House, which is a big if given recent polling and demographic trends, the chances of overturning the Supreme Court ruling and rolling back climate legislation is slim.

In the UK, The Spectator and its allies in the right wing press may be doing everything in their power to serve as the media wing of the Conservative right in an attempt to deliver a government that would be more hostile to green policies. But if there is little doubt environmental policies will change following next year's election, it remains almost impossible to see how a majority can be secured in Parliament for the repealing of the Climate Change Act. And even if some green policies are watered down, the fact remains that if the UK stays in the EU and if it wants to play a proactive role in UN climate negotiations then the general direction of travel in favour of decarbonisation will continue.

Secondly, even if Abbott manages to repeal the carbon tax, the Australian government's opposition to ambitious climate policy remains an almost lone international anomaly. The Spectator's assertion that "Mr Abbott reflects the growing consensus on the futility of carbon pricing" is as mistaken as its early declaration of victory is embarrassing.

The are some powerful politicians around the world who oppose bolder action on climate change, but it is notable that when Abbott recently teamed up with Canadian premier Stephen Harper to call for right wing governments to unite in pursuit of a "climate realist" approach they were met with a stony silence. In the meantime, Obama got on with unveiling the latest phase of his climate strategy, US Secretary of State John Kerry continued with his now frequent meetings with his Chinese counterparts to discuss bolder climate change policies, India's newly elected Narendra Modi underlined his commitment to clean energy, the Chinese government continued with its carbon pricing trials, and the EU stepped up efforts to deliver a post-2020 climate strategy. If there is a "growing consensus on the futility of carbon pricing" it has grown from virtually non-existent to tiny, and it does not include the world's three biggest emitters: the US, China, and the EU.

As the GLOBE network of legislators chaired by the UK's Lord Deben – bizarrely dismissed by The Spectator as "thermomaniac climate-change Cassandra from England" – 64 of the world's 66 largest economies are making progress on climate and clean energy legislation. In recent years almost 500 climate laws have been passed around the world; that is the true context in which the still as yet unrepealed Australian carbon tax sits. 

Moreover, confidence is mounting that a new international agreement to tackle emissions can be delivered next year by both the UN and the World Trade Organisation. The Spectator declares that "prospects for a binding and enforceable global post-Kyoto deal in Paris next year are about as likely as England winning the soccer World Cup in 2018". Well, England may deserve to be long shots for the World Cup (albeit they represent just as good a bet as Australia), but there are plenty of serious observers who think the odds on a more ambitious climate agreement are shortening. Any deal is unlikely to go far enough, but a dispassionate assessment tells you that the chances of encouraging progress are looking better than they have done in years.

Abbott's war on climate policies is undoubtedly a blow to Australia's green economy and international efforts to tackle climate change. But its impact should not be overstated. Business leaders and investors need to be aware that the general direction of both global climate legislation and technology development remains broadly in favour of decarbonisation. There is no value for businesses in using a single setback to justify ignoring the wide-ranging green policy and clean technology progress that has been achieved over the past few years. Jumping the gun will only lead to poor decisions and embarrassing mistakes. Just ask The Spectator.

Why innovation isn't always the answer

08 Jul 2014

Israel's first photovoltaic power plant Ketura Sun installed by Siemens

Like most people, I love the idea of innovation. Innovation is new, it's exciting, it's cutting-edge, and it's vital – even if no one can agree on precisely what it is.

In green business and environmental circles innovation is self-evidently of huge importance. Our current economic models are at the root of the environmental crises we face, so we need to develop innovative new technologies and business models to resolve those crises. Without technical innovation to bring down the cost of clean energy and transport we will never decarbonise the economy, without innovative new ways of doing business we will never tackle the resource crunches that loom over so many industries. That is what makes the sheer quantity and quality of clean tech innovation on display at last week's BusinessGreen Leaders Awards so inspiring and heartening. We need clean tech innovation, and long may it continue.

However, there is a little-acknowledged caveat to our obsession with innovation that was highlighted last week by the Dutch landscape ecologist Victor Beumer. Sometimes, he told the Global Estuaries Forum in Deauville, you need to stop regarding a solution as innovative and acknowledge that it has become normalised, boring, passé even. In fact, this should be the point you are aiming for – that is when you have made it.

Beumer was speaking of how we can use eco-engineering techniques to tackle flood risks when he said: "People say this is innovative, but it's been being done for over 10 years and if you call it innovative people want the government to pay for it and businesses won't take the risk." But he could have been talking about almost any clean tech innovation.

The key point that too many in the clean tech sector overlook in their rush to celebrate innovation (and I am as guilty of this as anyone) is that not everyone likes innovation. Large swathes of the public don't like innovation. Pension funds and institutional investors really hate innovation, many multinationals, regardless of what they say to the contrary, are wary of innovation. What they want is safe, reliable, bankable technologies, projects and business models that will deliver near-guaranteed returns.

The goal of the clean tech revolution is not innovation for innovation's sake, it is innovation to reach and then pass the point where greener alternatives become safer and more effective propositions than the polluting incumbents they are designed to replace. We need a clean tech industry that can innovate, but we also need one that can roll out its innovations at global scale in the matter of a few years. There are other skills that matter besides innovation (and yes I appreciate the contradiction of writing this just days after our BusinessGreen Leaders Awards celebrated the best in green business innovation).

The most encouraging aspect of the decision by retail giants such as Walmart, Sainsbury's and Tesco to invest so heavily in deploying solar panels and LED lights at their stores is that these firms are not traditionally that innovative when it comes to this aspect of their operations. They are not deploying these technologies to prove that they are cutting-edge, they've done the return on investment calculations, tested the technology and deemed it to be the best and most cost effective, not necessarily the most innovative, option. Similarly, it has to be asked if wind and solar energy should still be seen as innovative in those parts of the world where the technology has been around for more than 20 years and can now compete with fossil fuels on cost without subsidy.

Of course, innovation remains crucial, it is the lifeblood of the clean tech sector and will remain so for years to come. Green industries secure huge benefits from their being regarded as unimpeachably modern and technologically bleeding edge.

But there will come a point, and for some parts of the green economy it has already come, when clean tech firms will have to realise innovation can only get you so far. Sometimes you have to focus on deployment, and it is at that point that being regarded as innovative can become a curse as well as a blessing. It is almost always good to be seen as innovative, but if clean tech firms are to ever achieve their goals they also have to be regarded as boringly mainstream.

We are living through a slow motion global energy crisis - and only clean tech can save us

20 Jun 2014


Followers on Twitter will already be aware that I spent much of Tuesday angry and bemused at BP's latest annual Statistical Review of World Energy and the quite frankly terrifying data contained therein. Although in fairness it wasn't the report that prompted my anguished response, more the staggeringly insouciant interpretation of its findings offered by BP and the selective blindness of the world's media when it comes to the long term risks the oil industry's data so explicitly exposes. As Mat Hope of Carbon Brief observed: "If only @BusinessGreen was print, i'm pretty sure we'd see @James_BG tears of frustration smudged across the page". There were no smudged tears, but I'd challenge anyone who cares about the planet and the global economy not to look at our collective willingness to ignore the challenges BP's report makes plain and not get a bit upset.

For those of you who missed BP's report - and you'd be forgiven for doing so, given that despite its explosive findings relating directly to the headline grabbing events of recent weeks, it was never going to dominate the business pages in a week in which Iraq continued to implode and Russia upped the ante in its stand-off with Ukraine - it offered a snapshot of the current global energy market, confirming that the scary long term trends the oil industry declines to talk about in public are still very much present and correct.

As I argued on Tuesday, those trends can be divided into two overarching risks - climate change and energy security - both of which BP's statistics suggest are bad and getting worse.

On the climate change front the report confirmed that following a modest slowdown caused by the financial crisis annual increases in energy use and emissions are almost back up to their 10 year average. Meanwhile, the rapid and disruptive expansion in clean energy globally is barely putting a dent in the continued dominance of fossil fuels, which was further aided by a three per cent jump in coal use last year. Clean energy may be making impressive strides, but there is no reason as yet to update BP's similarly under-reported admission earlier this year that it expects greenhouse gas emissions to rise 29 per cent by 2035, essentially condemning the world to temperature increases well in excess of 2C.

On the energy security front, the BP report is, if anything, even more of a cause for concern, at least in the short term. In a speech that sought to redefine the concept of irony, BP chief executive Bob Dudley told his audience at the World Petroleum Congress that "energy can act as a bridge" between nations. This was on the same day as Moscow turned off the taps on gas to Ukraine and Islamist militants laid siege to Iraqi oil refineries.

Dudley's central argument was that the disruptions to supplies - that he acknowledged were becoming a way of life for the oil industry - were being compensated for by increased production, primarily from the US, leading to a historically benign period of stable oil prices. As Dudley observed, the report, and its identification of stable oil prices, "demonstrates the strength of the flexible global energy system in adapting to a changing world".

But what BP failed to highlight was that those stable prices have now stayed above $100 a barrel for three consecutive years. The most important graph in the entire report shows that oil prices, adjusted for inflation, have never been higher since the Pennsylvanian oil boom of the 1860s. For three consecutive years prices have been higher than during the 1970s oil crisis and the pre-2008 boom, and all this during a period that Dudley describes as being characterised by a "stagnant global economy". If anyone ever doubted the wisdom of billionaire investor Jeremy Grantham's assertion that the days of abundant resources are over they should take a look at BP's graph on historic oil prices and the concentration of record spikes over the past 10 years.

What BP and Dudley are effectively saying is that a "strong" and "flexible" global energy market capable of "adapting to a changing world" cannot currently deliver oil at under $100 a barrel. Just imagine where a weak and inflexible market would leave us. Want to know why the global economic recovery has been so slow and fragile? There is one of your answers right there.

Of course, the trillion dollar question is what happens next? BP's press office explained its review was neither forward looking, nor included models of how it would like the world to be. But as BP's chief economist, Christof Rühl, explained the balancing act being performed by supply disruptions in the Middle East and increased production in the US is "a sheer coincidence" that cannot last indefinitely. Something has to give at some point.

There is of course the possibility that US production will continue to surge, new fields will be opened up in new regions, and the Sunnis, the Shias, and the Kurds will agree to chill out and talk about their differences. However, there is also plenty of evidence to suggest tensions in the Middle East will continue, new fields, many of which require ever higher capital costs to exploit, will struggle to keep pace with booming Asian demand, and the US shale oil boom will start to plateau. As those who warn of a potential peak oil scenario have long warned, the risk is not the oil running out, rather the flow rates failing to keep up with demand - this is basically the scenario we've seen in the last three years as prices have stayed stubbornly above $100 a barrel. It could continue for a good while yet.

Prices will no doubt fluctuate in the future, but certain market characteristics are incontestable. Traditional powerhouse regions like the North Sea are maturing fast, capital costs across the industry are soaring, demand is showing no signs of slowing, those new supplies that are coming online - the Arctic, tar sands, shale oil - are increasingly costly and high risk from both a technical and environmental perspective, and the oil industry keeps telling us it is extremely relaxed about these facts. Oh, and even if we could find a way to boost oil supplies it would only make the longer term climate risks we face even worst.

We are facing an appalling double bind. Solve the energy security crisis by boosting oil and gas supplies to such a level where we can return to the business-as-usual, low cost energy scenario that held sway throughout much of the 20th century and we might get a short term boost to growth, but we would then only serve to escalate the unfolding climate crisis.

What can be done? Faced with these realities it becomes slightly easier to understand why some in the energy industry get so animated about gas and the potential for it to provide the oil majors with the get out of jail card that some executives privately admit that they desperately need. But this fixation on gas as a saviour only makes sense if you either ignore the warnings of climate scientists or are confident you can deliver workable CCS worldwide within 10 to 15 years. To ignore climate warnings is deeply reckless and to bet everything on a CCS industry the oil and gas sector has done little to advance is the height of wishful thinking. 

Dudley's response to the various challenges the industry so clearly faces is to gloss over the energy security risks, ignore the climate risks, and offer a more of the same approach with a slight shift in focus towards gas. As he said earlier this week: "supply will need to grow to keep pace with [rising demand]. And that is why the industry is still going to new frontiers to provide the energy that the world needs - as capital discipline allows. That includes shale oil and gas, tight oil and gas and deeper offshore wells and working in the Arctic."

Or, in other words, screw the climate and trust the oil industry to do its best to keep up with rising demand, even though the last few years have shown that we're really, really struggling on that front.

Thankfully, there is an alternative response that might just work - and if you ignore the entrenched thinking and oil industry spin that accompanies the barely concealed warnings contained in BP's latest report it quickly becomes apparent that it is the only rational response. We need a global effort that curbs fossil fuel demand by replacing oil, coal and gas, with renewables, nuclear, and energy efficiency. We need much more ambitious action to bring down the upfront cost of clean energy, mobilise energy saving technologies, and accelerate the already exponential growth in clean energy deployment.

We have the technologies to achieve this and we simply need to deploy them at scale, right now. Not just because it will tackle climate change risks and deliver inordinate environmental and health benefits. But also because without it we will almost certainly have to get used to a world where oil priced at over $100 a barrel becomes less of an historical anomaly and more a depressing reality. A world where economic growth is only sustained through unsustainable exploitation of ever more expensive and destructive oil reserves in the Arctic and beneath the deep ocean. A world where control over ever more scarce energy reserves is held by the same regimes that are currently doing their best to orchestrate a 30 year sectarian war.

Fail to get ourselves off the oil hook and there will be a lot more to cry about than just BP's recklessly relaxed response to the crisis it has uncovered.

Tortured World Cup-climate change analogy alert

11 Jun 2014


I like international sporting tournaments as much as the next moderately unreconstructed, occasionally juvenile man. But unlike the true fan, World Cups, Ashes series, and Olympics tend to creep up on me, suddenly materialising like a summer storm to deliver a month-long blitz of world class athletic distraction. For me there is no season-long sense of building anticipation, my diary is not cleared, and my holiday plans are not strategically placed to ensure I will have access to a TV for the key game, having already optimistically assumed England finish second in their group and make the quarter finals. I instead enjoy what games I can, and, when I am stuck on a train as sporting history is made, make a mental note to be more organised next time – a mental note I duly forget in the intervening years.

One of the pleasures of this haphazard approach to sporting enjoyment is the freedom it gives you to marvel at how smoothly everything seems to run. Over 10 years of planning, investment, and trial runs, on the part of both the organisers and the teams, comes together for a few weeks to deliver a spectacle to hold the world's attention. It is, and here comes the tortured analogy trailed in the headline, the perfect example of the value of long term planning being harnessed in the communal interest.

And yet this year, and potentially for years to come, we have been denied that pleasant sense of surprise. In Brazil, FIFA's festival of football is overshadowed by tear gas, protests, and riots as a clear majority of the public deplore the billions of dollars ploughed into the stadia and hotel necessary to keep football's pampered plutocrats in the style to which they have become accustomed. Meanwhile, the prospects for the next two World Cups are, if anything worse.

Judging by the geopolitics that surrounded the Beijing Olympics and this year's Winter Olympics in Sochi, the most important question that surrounds the 2018 Russian World Cup is which country will Putin invade to mark the closing ceremony? If there were any justice, the death toll at the construction sites for the Qatari World Cup would be regarded as a far greater global scandal than the increasingly compelling evidence of corruption that appears to have secured a tiny country with no football history the world's most prestigious sporting tournament.

This – and here comes part two of our tortured World Cup-climate change analogy – is what happens when you lock yourself into a long term plan without thinking about the wider consequences. You start with a well-intentioned goal – to spread the reach of the World Cup or increase energy capacity, say. You believe the arguments and enjoy the hospitality put forward by vested interest and enthusiastically sign on to their investment plans. And then, when it emerges that these investment plans are loaded with risks – with allegations of corruption, rising death tolls, human rights abuses, and extreme weather impacts – you have no choice but to double down on your original decision because you are legally and financially locked into it. You have to spend billions more than expected to keep the show on the road, you have to cover up anything that goes wrong, you have to smear your critics (accusing them of western imperialism and racism is a useful canard) – and all the while you have to stick with the original plan, no matter how flawed, unsustainable, or immoral it has become.

The similarities between FIFA's ongoing descent down the rabbit hole and the Carbon Bubble hypothesis might not be immediately obvious, but one thing is clear. If you are going to make decisions where success or failure will only be determined in 10 or 15 years' time then you really have to do your homework. The temptation is always there to discount the future; to assume everything will be fine because it has been fine in the past, or because the world is unlikely to change that much over the coming decades. The temptation may even be there to take advantage of the hospitality on offer now and let the repercussions from your decision look after themselves. After all, you'll no doubt be retired by then, your involvement in the original decision nothing more than a footnote in history.

But the world does change. An increasingly educated and empowered public will not sit quietly by as crucial funds that could have been spent on health and transport are funnelled into bread and circuses, no matter how inspiring the resulting sporting circus. A public that is increasingly engaged with environmental issues will not indefinitely accept that there is no viable alternative to destructive fossil fuel extraction. Sponsors will not appreciate their brand being tainted by association with tyrants, homophobia, and allegations of corruption, just as customers will not continue to demand fossil fuels once alternatives are readily available.

Making long-term decisions without properly assessing future risk is a sure-fire way to deliver infrastructure lock-in and stranded assets. No matter what the context the likelihood is that it will leave you trying to defend the indefensible, just as surely as it will leave you trying to play football in the desert in the middle of summer.