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Professor Jim Hall (ICE's 160th President)

Professor Jim Hall (ICE's 160th President)

Professor of climate and environmental risks, University of Oxford


Environmental Management, Water


United Kingdom
My highlights

Appointed commissioner of the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission

Contributed to the Nobel Prize-winning Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Won awards for work on water, coastal and flooding risks

A day in your life…

My day job is at the University of Oxford, so I spend most of my time there, though I do often travel up to London for my role as government advisor, and as a trustee of the ICE.

But when I’m in Oxford, I tend to have a lot of meetings.

I often meet with my doctoral students who I advise as part of my research group, the Oxford Programme for Sustainable Infrastructure Systems (OPSIS).

We have a lot of research projects, so we hold management meetings to ensure that they’re on track, and technical meetings to work through any challenges.

And, as with everyone else, much of my day is spent sending emails.

But I also manage to read a lot of research and policy work, and I write and edit lots of material.

It’s our responsibility to be at the top of our game throughout our careers, even as we become more senior and take on more management and leadership responsibilities.

So my advice is: don’t forget about the engineering.

I would recommend a career in civil engineering because…

Infrastructure completely shapes our lives, we all depend on it, often in quite invisible ways.

But we know that infrastructure, and how we plan and build it, needs to change, particularly if we are to respond to the threats posed by climate change.

A lot of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the energy, transport, water and waste sectors, which civil and infrastructure engineers are responsible for.

There are also a lot of infrastructure needs that need to be met in lower- and middle-income countries around the world.

Then there’s maintenance, productivity and inequality, all which relate to infrastructure.

So civil and infrastructure engineers play an absolutely fundamental role in solving the world’s problems.

We asked Jim

Which individual project or person inspired you to become a civil engineer?

It was actually an ICE member who came to my school during a careers day and showed me some of the work they were doing, and I just thought it looked really impressive.

Looking back, it probably wasn’t as sustainable as we’d expect infrastructure to be nowadays... but it was a long time ago.

I was also quite a practical kid, I liked building stuff.

I did maths and science at school, and so I really felt that I wanted to be a civil engineer from quite an early age.

Complete this phrase: I’m a civil engineer, but I’m also…

I’m a civil engineer, but I’m also a family man, a father of three children, and husband to a lovely wife.

I’m also a mountaineer – I’ve been on many expeditions over the years to places like Nepal and Antarctica.

I don’t go on expeditions anymore, but I still train pretty much every week at the climbing wall. It’s been a big part of my life.

Name one civil engineering myth you’d like to bust.

There’s a sense that all civil engineering research has been done, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Yes, we understand the properties of steel and concrete pretty well, and we get hydraulics and fluid mechanics.

But the challenges of climate change open up a lot of new research questions, in a very interesting way.

How do we get carbon emissions out of the production of steel and concrete? How do we make infrastructure systems resilient to climate change? How can we use digitalisation to prevent climate threats?

Our systems are very much a mix of the cyber and the physical nowadays, and there’s a lot of research to be done there, too.

Which civil engineering project (past or present) do you wish you’d worked on?

It’d have to be structural civil engineering projects, which are quite far from what I’ve ended up working on.

So projects like the Sydney Opera House, Foster’s HSBC building in Hong Kong and Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport.

These are inspiring pieces of structural engineering, you can see the flow of forces through them.

It’s just a side of civil engineering that I’ve never really had a hand in.

What do you think is the most important quality in a leader?

I think it begins with empathy, with listening and understanding what people are trying to say and do. And then turning that into communication.

So a leader, like an ICE president, is practically a communication device, that’s what they’re there for.

One needs to be able to explain, on behalf of the institution, what’s important, where we’re going and what we’re trying to achieve.

What’s your #1 piece of advice for someone just starting their career as a civil engineer?

Now is a great time to be starting a career as a civil engineer.

I would really encourage people to think broadly about all of the things that are changing in the world at the moment.

Technological change is huge, and it’s getting faster.

I would really encourage people to pay attention to digital technologies, artificial intelligence and technologies for a low-carbon, net zero future.

What are the most important skills for civil engineers today?

Don’t forget the technical, engineering skills.

Then, there’s system integration, or the ability to look at the big picture of how things fit and work together.

And then, the ability to communicate, persuade, advocate and work as part of multidisciplinary teams.

Tell us how you work with people to create or foster diversity in the workplace.

I have a fantastic research group working with me at the University of Oxford, which is internationally very diverse.

People from different cultures bring different perspectives.

I’m also pleased that over the years, we’ve managed to get a much more balanced proportion of women within our group.

That’s not easy in the infrastructure sector, but things are changing for the better.

And how we all work together is by having a shared sense of purpose.

We empower people. We’ll work out who does what, but then let them get on with it in their own way.

Of course, we’ll check in together to make sure everything is going in the right direction.

But we also pay attention to individuals and their career plans, offering them opportunities to develop.

Tell us how you work to address the problems caused by climate change. 

I’ve been working on coastal risks, water resources, and flooding for pretty much all my career.

It was early in my career that people were beginning to investigate the potential impacts of climate change on sea level rise and the water cycle.

I’ve also looked at how one makes decisions about how to adapt to climate change, because adaptation is a question of decision making under uncertainty.

It’s been pleasing to see those methods being taken up in practice.

For example, my team developed the first national water resource system model for England and Wales, and that’s been taken on by the Environment Agency and Ofwat.

I’m also involved in climate mitigation by looking at how we can cut greenhouse gas emissions from our infrastructure systems and get to net zero.

It’s not obvious how we should do this, there’s a lot more to do, and time is really tight.

What do you think is the greatest challenge the industry is facing and how can civil engineers overcome this issue?

The industry faces a series of challenges.

Decarbonisation and getting to net zero are massive challenges. We’ve got to get carbon emissions out of the power, transport, and heavy industry sectors.

We are also in the midst of mass extinction, losing species everywhere in the world.

We’ve also got to adapt to the impacts of climate change, as ICE 159th President Prof Anusha Shah emphasised in her presidential address. Engineers need to be working in harmony with nature.

There’s also the issue of productivity. The cost of infrastructure has gone up a lot and that means we can have less of what we need.

And there’s the challenge of digitisation, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things...

There are some big things coming up in this space.

Jim's career path

Before going to university, I took a gap year working with Taylor Woodrow Construction.

I studied civil engineering at the University of Bristol, with a stage at the Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussés, the oldest civil engineering school in the world.

After graduating, I went to Guyana with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), where I worked on flood protection and drainage.

I then worked at water specialist HR Wallingford before embarking on my PhD, which was on engineering systems and uncertainty analysis.

I became a reader in civil engineering systems at the University of Bristol, before moving on to be the first professor of earth systems engineering at Newcastle University.

I joined the UK’s Committee on Climate Change Adaptation in 2009 and remained a member until 2019.

I then joined the University of Oxford as professor of climate and environmental risks, where I am today.

I’m part of the UK prime minister’s Council for Science and Technology and a commissioner of the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission.

In November 2024, I will become the 160th President of the Institution of Civil Engineers.


My research is on risk analysis for water resource systems, flooding and coastal engineering, infrastructure systems and adaptation to climate change.

I led the development of the National Infrastructure Systems Model (NISMOD), which was used for the ICE’s influential National Needs Assessment and for the UK’s first National Infrastructure Assessment.

I also lead the Oxford Programme on Sustainable Infrastructure Systems (OPSIS). My research group builds model systems of infrastructure networks to stress-test their resilience to climate-related shocks.

I created, and now chair, the UK's Data and Analytics Facility for National Infrastructure (DAFNI).

I’ve published more than 250 articles in peer reviewed journals and was editor of the Water Resources Research journal from 2017-2022.