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Eco-economists powering a green tomorrow

Meet four economists using their skills to build a brighter, more sustainable future

Economics is important in the fight against climate change because it helps us make informed decisions about how we use resources. By studying economics, you can learn how to balance the needs of people, businesses and the environment to create a sustainable future. So, if you’re passionate about saving the planet, this could be the career for you!

#1 Faye Wang is helping predict Australia’s economic future through a climate lens

RBA economist Faye Wang

Faye sees climate change as the number one issue impacting our generation, and it’s part of her job at the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) to try to work out how climate change might impact our economy.

“At the RBA, I’m part of a community of economists who are conducting research and discussion around how we can manage climate risks and influence policy,” she explains. 

Faye grew up during the Global Financial Crisis and became interested in both the environment and economics as she saw how economics impacted everyday households.

She studied a Bachelor of Law/Economics (Hons) at the University of Sydney, and was initially interested in a legal career, but soon gravitated towards the economics side of her degree.

“I discovered it was less about numbers and more about people and the social impact,” she says.

“Economists analyse the successes and failures of the past, and how these can inform emerging conditions. I wanted to get a better understanding of the world around me; how people, governments and firms make decisions and justify what they do.”

Challenging and exciting career

Encouraged by a uni lecturer to apply for the RBA graduate program, Faye has since built a successful economics career at Australia’s central bank, working across several different departments.

“My own economics skills in forecasting and scenario modelling have been really useful in trying to quantify what climate change means for the economy,” she says. “I make projections about what might happen if we do nothing, versus if we act to address the issue.”

A career highlight was co-writing an internal article about how some of Australia’s biggest trading partners – Japan, South Korea and China – are committed to cutting down emissions, and what this will mean for our own economy. The article was picked up and published outside the RBA.

“It was exciting to see the article getting media coverage and contributing to the broader policy debate on climate change ahead of COP26,” Faye says.

Faye loves how diverse her role at the RBA is, with the opportunity to tune in to policy debates and participate in policy discussion forums.

“It is both challenging and exciting to be given the opportunity to speak up in front of senior staff and influence policy-making decisions,” she says.

Faye’s study and career path to becoming an economist at the Reserve Bank of Australia

  • Bachelor of Laws/Economics (Hons), University of Sydney
  • Economist, Reserve Bank of Australia
Energy economist Justin Plant

#2 Justin Plant is combining his engineering and economics knowhow to transition Australia to a green energy future

After studying a double degree in environmental engineering and finance, Justin says he slowly became “more and more curious about the economic drivers of the energy transition to renewable energy”, and so decided to follow up his degree with a Master’s in economics.

Now he’s taken that curiosity into his career. Justin works as an energy economist with the Commonwealth Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water. His job involves thinking about the future of Australia’s energy system and helping determine the steps we can take today to transition to a greener energy future.

To do this, his team uses mathematical models to represent the electricity and gas networks that transport energy around the country. These models can inform us about the future – for example, how Australia can generate more electricity from solar and wind power while ensuring we have a reliable energy supply.

Justin loves the diversity of his workplace and the impact they have.

“While I focus on the economics of energy and climate policy, workmates down the corridor from me work on things as diverse as protecting Australia’s threatened species, management of Australia’s national parks or organising the logistics of Australia’s presence in Antarctica,” he says.

Justin’s study and career path to becoming an energy economist Commonwealth Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water

  • Bachelor of Environmental Engineering / Bachelor of Finance, University of Western Australia
  • Master of Economics, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Environmental Engineer, Woodside Energy
  • Quantitative Analyst, KYOS Energy Analytics
  • Energy Economist, Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water
Professor Frank Jotzo (Image: Jamie Kidston/ANU)

#3 Professor Frank Jotzo is training the next generation of economists and researching how to achieve a climate-safe economy

As a professor in environmental and climate change economics, Frank is helping to train the next generation to deal with climate change. Frank also does research that helps Australia and the world understand the economic opportunities in moving to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, and to find ways to deal with the challenges of that transition.

“The best part of my job is that I get to work with people who are smart and passionate about helping make a positive difference in the world,” he says.

Frank’s study and career path to becoming head of energy at the ANU Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions

  • Bachelor of Economics, Humboldt University Berlin
  • Master of Development Economics, ANU
  • Economist, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics
  • Principal Economist, Garnaut Climate Change Review
  • Head of Energy, ANU Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions.
Economist Sarah Nankervis

#4 Sarah Nankervis advises governments and businesses on climate and energy policy

A passion for the environment led Sarah to a Bachelor of Economics with an Honours year focussed on environmental economics. Her thesis was on the potential impacts of carbon pricing on the forestry sector.

Today, Sarah works as an economist for a company called Sapere, focussing on assigning economic value to the environment “which can’t speak for itself”, and finding cost-effective solutions to public policy or business challenges. Her aim is to minimise negative impact to the environment – and, where possible, improve environmental outcomes.

Sarah says environmental economics is a great choice because it’s still a relatively uncommon career path, even though it’s a growth area. “It is always evolving, interesting and satisfying, and you can make a real difference.”

Sarah’s study and career path to becoming an economist at Sapere

  • Bachelor of Economics (Honours), La Trobe University
  • Graduate economist, Victorian Department of Treasury and Finance
  • Senior Economist, Natural Resources, Water and Climate Change, Department of Primary Industries
  • Manager, Economic Consulting, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu
  • Senior Policy Officer, Environment Protection Authority, Victoria
  • Principal Advisor / Economist, Energy Demand and Efficiency Policy, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning
  • Principal, Sapere Research Group

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This article was brought to you in partnership with the Reserve Bank of Australia and a version of it was originally published in Careers with STEM: Maths & Data.

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