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The Policy Ask with Carla Denyer: “Fossil fuel companies make obscene profits”

The Green Party co-leader on working as a renewable energy engineer and declaring the first “climate emergency”.

By Spotlight

We’ve launched the Policy Ask, a new Q&A series with influential political and business figures, who tell us about their career trajectory and lay out their demands of government. Our first contributor is Carla Denyer, co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales. Denyer has been a city councillor in Bristol since 2015. Prior to her political career, she studied mechanical engineering at Durham University and worked as a wind turbine engineer at renewable energy consultancy, GL Garrad Hassan.

How do you start your working day?

I usually wake up to Radio 4. I have a quick look at my phone to see if I have any urgent requests, then try to spend the first few hours of every day on big or difficult tasks – the “eat a live frog first thing in the morning” approach!

What has been your career high?

So far, my successful motion on Bristol City Council in 2018 to declare a climate emergency and commit the city to going carbon-neutral by 2030. It was the first climate emergency declaration in Europe and set off a wave of hundreds of similar declarations in local and national government, education institutions, charities and businesses. Now the challenge is to hold those institutions to their ambitious new commitments.

What has been the most challenging moment of your career?

The 2019 general election, which was the first time I stood as a parliamentary candidate. I came a healthy second place in Bristol West with 18,809 votes – the highest number of constituency votes the Green Party has ever received outside of Brighton Pavilion, where Caroline Lucas is MP. We worked incredibly hard for three months, but time wasn’t on our side; I had only been selected in September, and the snap election was called weeks later. The next election will be a different story – my goal is to be Bristol’s first Green MP.

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If you could give your younger self career advice, what would it be?

I never thought I’d be a politician. My degree was in mechanical engineering and I worked in renewable energy for six years, specialising in offshore and onshore wind. But I ultimately decided that I needed to try to change the world faster than one wind turbine at a time, and “green politics” was the best way for me to do that. I was first elected as a councillor in 2015. But even though it wasn’t the most direct route into politics, I wouldn’t change anything. My engineering background often proves valuable – from interpreting graphs and statistics to asking probing questions and sniffing out greenwashing.

Which political figure inspires you, and why?

Caroline Lucas, of course! But also dozens of other amazing women and non-binary people in the Green Party, including our deputy leader Amelia Womack and former leader (now House of Lords peer) Natalie Bennett.

What UK policy or fund is the government getting right?

The Renters Reform Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech promises a long overdue rebalancing of power between landlords and tenants. It will abolish “no-fault” evictions and introduce an ombudsman and a register of landlords. But since abolishing “no-fault” evictions was promised by Theresa May in 2019, excuse me if I don’t hold my breath…

And what policy should the UK government ditch?

Where do I start?! The choices are endless, but a particularly egregious one is the £27bn Road Investment Strategy 2 (RIS2) road-building programme, a transport policy that is clearly inconsistent with the government’s legally binding climate commitments.

What piece of international government policy could the UK learn from?

You don’t even need to leave the UK to find inspiration – Greens are in government in Scotland and have introduced free bus travel for under-22s, making sustainable travel the cheapest and easiest option for young people accessing work or education, and helping to cement lifelong habits of using public transport.

If you could pass one law this year, what would it be?

A “dirty profits tax” on the obscene profits being made by fossil fuel companies, which would be a stepping stone towards a longer-term policy of a carbon tax to drive investment towards low-carbon technologies. Ninety-four per cent of Brits support a carbon tax on polluting industries.

Hear from the UK’s leading politicians on the most pressing policy questions facing the UK at NS Politics Live, in London. Find out more about the New Statesman’s flagship event on the 28th June here.

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