10 November 2023

Climate and sustainability rising star of the year award: Rebecca Lea

Paul Walsh speaks to the ABI's senior policy adviser about her leadership on the climate agenda and the broadening scope of sustainability

Rebecca Lea, senior policy adviser at the Association of British Insurers (ABI), wins the climate and sustainability rising star of the year title for her achievements that have benefitted the association and the entire sector.

Lea joined the ABI in 2020 as its first adviser focused exclusively on climate change issues. She joined the trade body from consultancy Capco where she specialised in regulation, after beginning her career as an economist at the Centre for Economics and Business Research.

Read about all the winners in InsuranceERM's Climate Risk & Sustainability 2023 awards

Despite not having a background in sustainability and being early in her career, she has seen her responsibilities increase as the sustainability team has also grown, and now leads on the ABI's work relating to climate change regulation. For example, she has coordinated the industry's collective engagement with the Bank of England on its Climate Biennial Exploratory Scenario exercise and its follow-up work on climate and capital.

Having joined the ABI one week into the very first Covid-19 lockdown, Lea explains the trajectory for the insurance sector and wider financial services to focus on climate change "took off exponentially" during this period, and believes many companies experienced turning points.

"I would say I was really lucky when I joined because I could learn as a lot of the industry was learning at the same time.

"My lack of experience gave me a lot of that curiosity to go off and do all this reading and learning."

Since joining the ABI, she has regularly represented the sector on panels, at conferences and played a major part in the guidance developed by the Prudential Regulation Authority/Financial Conduct Authority's Climate Financial Risk Forum.

Lea predicts the focus on climate risk is going to ramp up more and more as climate commitments made by firms in this space begin to materialise.

"There will get to a point where the deadlines for net-zero portfolios are approaching so there will be more and more urgency to meet those net zero deadlines," says Lea.

"Then your stewardship really will need to ramp up, and those questions about divestment really will become more and more real."

She also predicts the scope of sustainability will increase, and more focus will be placed on the individual elements of the environmental, social and governance (ESG) agenda.

"I often hear it said that previously the E has just been about the sea, the carbon [emissions], it hasn't been about the wider environment. But now we're going to start considering nature as well.

"And then looking at the S, it's not just about gender inclusivity, it's about things like social mobility and a range of things.

"When you start looking at it, we've only really grazed the surface of the topic."

One of Lea's major initiatives has been her leading role on the ABI's guide to action on nature, for which the association has achieved the InsuranceERM nature/biodiversity initiative of the year award.

Lea predicts the focus on nature related risks will be another key focus point for the insurance sector as it is currently an unknown quantity compared with climate change, which is a "relatively well understood concept".

"Nature is something which I think we all see, and for a lot of us, it's our route into caring about climate change. But when you start thinking about the different facets of nature we impact and the different mechanisms by which we're impacting it, it's so much more complicated."