Some people say that the UK can’t afford to be the first country to develop a low-carbon economy. I say that we can’t afford not to be. We must do what’s right and take the brave decision to lead the way.

Much like the Shackleton Epic adventurers, we can look to history for inspiration. In 1792, William Pitt the Younger argued that Britain should take the lead in abolishing the slave trade. He said:

“How is this enormous evil ever to be eradicated, if every nation is thus prudentially to wait till the concurrence of all the world shall have been obtained?”

Now, as then, we can’t wait until every other country is ready to join in. We must be brave and lead the way.

Pitt argued that Britain, as a leader in the trade at the time, had a moral duty to act. He said that doing so would deny other countries the excuse not to act. As the UK is the country with the longest history of industrialisation, I believe we have a moral duty to take the same leadership on climate change.

That’s all very well, you might say, but what about the economics? How can the UK afford to take action like retrofitting buildings on a massive scale or greening our energy supply and transport systems? In his review, The Economics of Climate Change, Sir Nicholas Stern was clear that not tackling the issue would be much more expensive than doing nothing.

The problem is that we, as humans, naturally focus on immediate costs. So, for example, we worry about the short-term costs of switching to renewable energy rather than the long-term costs of sticking with fossil fuels. We look at the price of oil but not the cost of dealing with the carbon it will emit.

For a project with the Welsh Government, I am proposing a series of actions to create the conditions in which we would retrofit all the homes in Wales in 20 years. I personally believe that Government should pay for the retrofitting of the poorest 20% in society, and that this will pay for itself via improvements to health and education, and via reductions in unemployment and increases in tax revenues. By working at scale intelligently it will be possible to achieve real economies which will make such upgrades affordable for the middle classes, for whom the greatest returns will come from enhanced property values rather than from energy savings.

So what’s stopping us? Business as usual is always the easy option, but it’s not a luxury we can afford. Someone must lead the move to a low-carbon economy and I believe it should be the UK. We are still the world’s seventh largest economy and if we lead, we will benefit and others will follow.

I don’t know whether any government, national or devolved, will lead on this. It is a big ask. If government won’t lead, then I think Arup should be there to keep banging the drum. After all, isn’t this why we’re in business – to make the world a better place?