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The Policy Ask with Rhian-Mari Thomas: “Decarbonising air travel is vital to hit net zero”

The CEO of Green Finance Institute on her shift from physicist to investment banker, the importance of biodiversity targets, and the US Inflation Reduction Act.

By Spotlight

Rhian-Mari Thomas was awarded an OBE for services to green banking and appointed chief executive of the government and City of London Corporation-backed Green Finance Institute in 2019. She is an emeritus member of the task force on climate-related financial disclosures and co-chaired the launch of the task force on nature-related financial disclosures. Thomas was previously the global head of green banking and the founder and chair of Barclays Green Banking Council. She holds a PhD in physics from Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.

How do you start your working day? 

My working day starts at 6am with the Today programme on BBC Radio 4, a skim of relevant news stories curated by our partners at communications consultancy SEC Newgate, and a daily call with my chief of staff to structure both her and my thinking and plans for the day ahead.

What has been your career high? 

I thought the opportunity to establish the Green Finance Institute (GFI) was going to be hard to beat, but the invitation to launch our overseas offices four years later was a validation of the strategy, impact and culture of the organisation we’ve built, and one of my proudest achievements to date.  

What has been the most challenging moment of your career?

Transitioning from physics to investment banking and quickly having to establish my credibility in a highly competitive cohort comprised entirely of men, set me up to handle most of the subsequent challenges I’ve encountered in my career.

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

When it comes to finance, trust the numbers, but when it comes to your career, always trust your instincts, take risks and back yourself.

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Which political figure inspires you?  

Aneurin Bevan. From working in a South Wales coal mine at age 13, he became the statesman who created the NHS despite the objections of his political opponents and the medical profession itself. While in some respects a controversial figure, he had the political courage and energy to realise his vision, driving change that would benefit the lives of millions.

What policy or fund is the UK government getting right?

Decarbonising air travel is vital to hit net zero, so I welcome that the government will be consulting on a price stability mechanism for sustainable aviation fuels. This will likely consider different revenue certainty options, some of which may reflect those that catalysed renewable energy. The GFI has provided the detailed analysis and recommendations supporting this approach through the Jet Zero Council.

And what policy should the UK government scrap?

To mobilise the capital needed for net zero, the UK needs to confine grant funding and instead move towards the state deploying its own balance sheet to crowd in many multiples of private finance. We can achieve this by deploying public finance catalytically, through equity and guarantees. This will help scale businesses in key sectors and deliver a return for UK taxpayers.

What upcoming UK policy or law are you most looking forward to?  

Since 12 February 2024, biodiversity net-gain legislation became operational. This now requires developers to deliver a biodiversity net gain of 10 per cent, to ensure the evolution of more and better-quality natural habitats. Improving our natural environments through this kind of innovative policy is market-making and the kind of policy we need to see more of.

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

While not without its faults, the US Inflation Reduction Act is a policy from which there are lessons to be learned. The UK doesn’t have the balance sheet to provide extensive subsidies at the same scale, however, there are other financial and policy levers that can be pulled to provide certainty to investors, such as clear investment roadmaps and innovative risk-sharing structures.

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

If only allowed one law, I’d have to pass one that would require all new legislation, regulation, and judicial decisions to be consistent with the science and principles of the Paris Agreement and net zero targets.

[See also: The EU is lurching to the right – that’s bad news for the green transition]

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Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
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  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
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