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On the front line of the climate crisis: Policy Researcher

Sara is a Policy Researcher for a climate change think tank who uses her scientific background to help her break down barriers to effective climate action.


Sara Dethier, policy researcher

Physics has given me the conceptual and systems thinking mindset needed to come up with bold ideas that are outside the box on tackling climate change.”

First name: Sara | Job title: Policy Researcher | Organisation: E3G
Qualifications: MSc, Physics, Imperial College London; MSc, Sustainable Energy Futures, Imperial College London

How did you get to where you are?
I started my career in the oil and gas industry, working with Shell and ExxonMobil. But I quickly realised it wasn’t for me, due to my growing awareness of the climate crisis! I went back to university and did a Master’s in Sustainable Energy Futures.

I then worked on energy and climate change, first as a researcher for the Council on Energy, Environment and Water in Delhi, then as a consultant for Arup in London. Realising that the barriers to effective climate action are largely political and institutional as opposed to financial and technical, I decided to reorient my career into public policy. I now work with E3G – an independent climate change think tank – in Brussels.

What does your job involve?
I work on sustainable finance, industrial decarbonisation and research and innovation policy, advocating for ambitious policy reforms under the European Green Deal.

The role involves influencing all stages of the policy-making decision process, from political agenda setting, to coalition building, to influencing policy and institutional reform. That means conducting research and analysis, writing policy briefs and blog articles, engaging with the media, mobilising coalitions of businesses and civil society organisations, and doing advocacy to influence political actors in the European Union.

What do you enjoy most about it?
I consider my career a passion due to the impact I can make in supporting the transition to a climate-safe world. I can spend hours researching climate-related issues! And I really like spending time on thinking about complex challenges and coming up with policy and political solutions to the challenges our society is facing with my colleagues. I also enjoy being able to build relationships with a wide range of stakeholders among civil society and the private and public sectors.

E3G meeting

How is physics part of your job?
Physics isn’t directly part of my job as such. But I use my analytical ability sharpened through physics to help me quickly navigate through large amounts of information on a daily basis, grounded in a sound understanding of the scientific and technological innovations which will be necessary to transition to a climate-safe world.

And physics has given me the conceptual and systems thinking mindset needed to come up with bold ideas that are outside the box on tackling climate change. For example, my role in sustainable finance policy requires coming up with ambitious policy reforms on reducing and managing climate and environmental risks and on increasing opportunities for citizens, financial institutions and businesses to enhance sustainability.

What advice would you give to a young person interested in a career focusing on climate change?
Climate change requires you to be a systems thinker. I would encourage them to read books, follow leading thinkers and listen to podcasts covering a broad range of themes, to develop not only their scientific and technological understanding of climate change but also to improve their understanding of sociology, economics and politics. I would also encourage them to join a local community project or participate in a Climathon, since this would enable them to propose concrete solutions to climate change.

Participating in youth platforms and joining Toastmasters can be a great way to improve their public speaking and leadership skills, which can be useful for effectively communicating to a variety of audiences. It would also be a big help to have an inspiring mentor who can guide them through their higher education and work experience choices, as well as to start engaging with people working on climate change by attending local and online climate events.

Climate science

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