28 Mar

The World Traders’ 37th Annual Tacitus Lecture, Optimism and Change: Sexuality, Climate & Engineering, was given by Lord Browne on Thursday, 29 February 2024.


One of the largest events of its kind in the City of London, the Tacitus Lecture returned to the historic Guildhall on a late February evening for its 37th year.

Some 700 Government officials, senior business leaders, members of organisations and institutions, and students, and the Company’s own diverse membership gathered in the Great Hall to hear John Browne, The Lord Browne of Madingley give this year’s Lecture, Optimism and Change: Sexuality, Climate & Engineering.

Expertly weaving the critical roles of engineering in our ability to combat the climate crisis, and the importance of inclusion within businesses, Lord Browne’s speech was underpinned by optimism – and why we must continue to strive for a better future.


75 Years of Progress

Opening his Lecture, Lord Browne spoke about his mother, Paula, from whom he inherited his natural optimism. Our 2024 Lecturer spoke about his mother’s belief that “nothing good came from dwelling on the past”, and that despite having survived Auschwitz, Paula continued to see the good in people. An attitude, according to Lord Browne, that has fallen out of fashion.

The COVID-19 pandemic, global conflicts, the impacts of climate change, economic and trade disruption are all causations for the rise in populism, and the rise in pessimism for our future.

“My worry is that this all-pervading mood risks condemning us to a belief that humankind’s condition is one of inevitable failure.”

But to Lord Browne – an engineer, a pioneer of the energy transition, and an openly gay business leader – there’s a more uplifting story to tell.



One of the prime reasons for our speaker’s optimism in engineering, and the many advancements Lord Browne has seen in his decades-long career. Citing developments such as the internet, LED lighting, GPS and medical advancements, the speaker detailed how all of our human endeavours have thrived thanks to engineering.

“These discoveries and the myriad other examples of ingenuity that propel our world forward are in many ways imperfect and unfinished. Yet they have undoubtedly brought, along with their challenges, great social and economic improvements unimaginable on the day I was born.”

Lord Browne also spoke about AI, and both its potential and the need to implement regulation of the technology. He compared the innovation to fossil fuels, one of the greatest drivers of human advances, yet one that we must now transition away from.



One of the most pressing topics of our time, Lord Browne turned his attention to the climate crisis, calling the current status of the energy transition a “mixed bag”. However, he noted how different the conversation surrounding our environment is now compared to the ’90s when he was Chief Executive of BP, saying that people are enthusiastic for ‘green’ energy.

“Solar electricity costs have fallen 80 per cent in the last 10 years. Wind power costs are down around 60 per cent. Batteries are 85 per cent cheaper. We probably already have over 70 per cent of the engineering solutions we need to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions.”

While Lord Browne acknowledged that more must be done to create long-term, sustainable solutions, he also highlighted that investment into the energy transition has incredible potential. And that our efforts must reflect human values of justice and equality.


Sexuality & Inclusion

Finally, Lord Browne highlighted his third reason for optimism: the growing global acceptance of those identifying as LGBTQI+. Our speaker spoke about his “fear of rejection” as a closeted gay man, and how far the world has come since he was outed in 2007. Yet, he says there is still a long way to go for equality and representation.

“The World Bank estimates that India alone loses $32 billion a year in economic output because of LGBT discrimination. And researchers suggest that the US economy could add an extra $9 billion a year if companies improve their ability to retain LGBT talent.”

Lord Browne also spoke about the need for more openly-LGBTQI+ leaders and talent, and the untapped potential of greater acceptance and opportunities, and the need to create safer spaces for talent to be their authentic selves.



Drawing his Lecture to a close, Lord Browne spoke about his optimism once again, sharing that his life has been fulfilling and varied, and that he looks towards a more hopeful future.

“My mother’s unwavering faith in the human condition throughout her life – despite her experience to the contrary – can inspire us. We need to learn again that discrimination is the enemy of progress.

“Whenever we open opportunity to women, Jews, Muslims, LGBT people, refugees, ethnic minorities and many others, we embrace humanity’s full genius.”

Following the Lecture, Lord Browne took time to answer questions from the audience, with several enthusiastic queries coming from attendees from schools and colleges, and one from a former fellow oil major CEO and competitor at Shell.

The audience particularly enjoyed this segment, with our speaker answering authentically, wisely and enthusiastically. The evening concluded with guests joining in the reception to discuss their thoughts on the Lecture, and their ideas on the state of global trade.

If you would like to read Lord Browne’s speech in full, the transcript is available here.

You can also watch his speech here.


With Thanks to Our Sponsors

The Worshipful Company of World Traders wishes to warmly thank the sponsors of this year’s Tacitus Lecture.

Silver Sponsors, Co-Counsel – a virtual law firm est. 2013

Bronze Sponsors, Coutts – private banking and wealth management est. 1692

Without the support and partnership of these organisations, the Tacitus Lecture, its incredible insights, and the positive impact it has on the Company’s educational and charitable initiatives would not be possible.

Lala Cooper