Facing up to the grand challenges posed to society today requires a policy that counts the cost of environmental damage, such as carbon emissions and air pollution. Technologies have arrived to address climate mitigation, but relatively few of these are biotechnologies. Biotechnologies in environmental applications suffer a variety of inhibitors – political, social and technical, and yet the potential cannot be denied. The greatest technical promise for future biotechnology mobilisation may be the standardisation of engineering biology that allows more rapid and less expensive reduction to practice. However, decades of metabolic engineering for bio-based chemicals and materials have brought many research successes but few commercial-scale products. To address this gap between laboratory and market, new models of R&D&I may be needed to speed up the process. In past, haste has not mattered. For the proposed generation and those that follow, there is a need for policy makers to abandon this complacency as recent evidence is showing that time is running out to keep global warming within internationally agreed limits.