James originally researched in meteorology, oceanography and hydrology. He was previously Chief Executive of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and served on government groups including climate change, zero waste, hydronation, green growth, biodiversity, and fracking. At one time, he ran his own eco-business and has, on and off, worked in consultancy. He was an Honorary Professor of Stirling University and Chair of the James Hutton Institute and, currently, serves on the Board of the Green Purposes Company, overseeing the environmental performance of the privatised UK Green Investment Bank; he advises the Isle of Man Government on climate action; and he recently stepped down as chair of Climate Ready Clyde, developing the Glasgow City Region climate adaptation strategy. James is a visiting professor at the Centre for Sustainable Development, University of Strathclyde.