Ben Wilson is director of advocacy and executive sponsor for climate change at the Association of British Insurers (ABI).
The association is no stranger to the climate agenda, having been a founding member of ClimateWise and coordinating the industry's response to various regulatory initiatives. But the appointment of Ben in January 2020 has helped the ABI play more of a leadership role and champion of best practice.
The ABI's board made climate change its top priority for 2021 and Ben has led the work of putting this into practice.
This has included establishing a group of 10 industry CEOs to help guide the industry's climate strategy, and the publication of a landmark industry roadmap, setting out targets, best practice and priorities for how the sector should embed sustainability across all its products.
In addition to his role at the ABI, Ben is a trustee of Earthwatch Europe, a science-based environmental charity.
What inspired you to work on climate change issues?
Having previously worked in several Government departments as a senior civil servant, I have always been fascinated by big political, social, environmental and public policy challenges. It is five minutes to midnight, and this is a challenge for humanity on a scale of no other.
At the risk of sounding trite, the birth of my daughter in 2018 increased my resolve to use my experiences to try to leave the planet in a better state.
What are your work priorities right now?
The ABI's climate change roadmap, authored with my brilliant colleague Ben Howarth and many other fantastic practitioners across our member firms too, commits the insurance industry to make progress in four main areas.
This includes unleashing more capital to fund the transition to net-zero; meeting a series of near-term and long-term targets consistent with leading international scientific standards; transforming operations within firms including in supply chains; and, helping society adapt and supporting the necessary behaviour change from our customers.
It's a huge cross-industry effort but we are determined to deliver it.
Tell me one step the insurance industry needs to take, to improve its response to climate change?
It would be to encourage all firms in the sector to become race-to-zero accredited. More information on the different ways to do this are in the link here – but it basically involves having serious near and long-term science-based targets to reduce emissions, and action plans to help drive the transition to net zero.
In our discussions with government ministers and COP26 leaders, this is cited as the minimum requirement for businesses to be taking seriously on climate change. Many ABI members have already made this commitment.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic we can avoid the worst effects of climate change?
The really honest answer is there are days I feel positive, and days where I am close to despair about our current trajectory.
There are many reasons to be positive in our sector. Our work on the ABI roadmap demonstrated CEOs across our sector are taking personal control and driving substantial action from business including unleashing the capital needed to fund the net-zero transition. Tackling climate change is no longer a sideshow but increasingly at the heart of firms' strategies.
However, the scale of the challenge is immense and requires a huge whole society response – and globally we know we are still a long way off seeing the greenhouse gas reductions we need.
What are you doing personally to reduce your climate impact?
I have just switched home energy suppliers to a firm providing 100% renewable electricity, and I am currently installing a water meter to ensure we use it as wisely as possible. I don't have a car, but I am looking seriously at leasing an electric vehicle as it is getting harder not having a car with a young family.
At the ABI, we recently published our own environmental charter which encourages much better staff behaviours – massively reducing printing, lighting, water use and waste and ensuring sustainable buying in our supply chain.