Denise Eastlake set up and is the head of the climate change desk at law firm DAC Beachcroft, where she helps insurer clients identify and prepare for the legal challenges arising from climate change.
She is an litigator with over 14 years' experience in acting for insurers in a wide variety of property damage, construction, fraud and renewable energy claims.
Denise has been involved with a number of pro bono projects relating to climate change. This includes the Z Zurich Foundation and The Chancery Lane Project, insurance industry group ClimateWise, as well as insurance lawyers' climate change working groups.
She was a founding member of the DAC Beachcroft Women's Network and is passionate about advancing the careers of women in the legal sector.
What inspired you to work on climate change issues?
I undertook a Masters in Law focusing on human rights at Trinity College in Dublin and after my training contract I spent a year working at the legal charity Reprieve, acting on behalf of British nationals on death row abroad. We know that the changing climate will have a massive impact on vulnerable communities and those living in developing countries. For me, the climate change pro bono projects that I've been involved with, as well as my work to raise awareness of the risks to insurers and their policyholders of failing to take action on climate change, are all interconnected.
What are your work priorities right now?
To amplify climate change and ESG issues and influence decision makers whenever possible, using the platforms I have access to.
Tell me one step the insurance industry needs to take, to improve its response to climate change?
Engage with policyholders. In the recent case against Shell, the Dutch Supreme Court said the transition to a low-carbon economy is going to require everyone to play their part: including governments and corporations. As a result, I would like underwriters to ask all their corporate policyholders if they have a transition plan in place, and if not, to encourage them to prepare one and then to discuss the contents. Similarly, the industry needs to encourage all policyholders to carry out a risk assessment of what climate risks are likely to impact them and work out how they can mitigate these and adapt to the changing climate.
"I would like underwriters to ask all their corporate policyholders if they have a transition plan in place"
Are you optimistic or pessimistic we can avoid the worst effects of climate change?
I am really concerned. The wildfires, floods and scorching temperatures experienced in Canada and the US over the summer were truly frightening. The climate is changing right now. The way that the planet works is so incredibly complex that we cannot know precisely what the impact of a warmer Arctic will have on the jet stream, or the way that warmer sea temperatures will change weather patterns and ocean currents. The world has such a long way to go to reach net zero in just 29 years' time. If we can make significant changes by 2030, then our prospects will improve but the time for action is now!
What are you doing personally to reduce your climate impact?
I've been a vegetarian for 29 years and I buy organic vegetables. I use a renewable energy supplier and we have a hybrid car and 'pay as you drive' insurance – this is really effective in encouraging us to leave the car at home for short journeys.
I hate waste so I try and reuse things as much as possible. I always carefully open presents so I can save the wrapping paper. At university, my housemates always laughed at me for washing the aluminium foil to reuse.
For my daughter's seventh birthday party recently, I sourced compostable lunch boxes, juice cartons with paper straws and party bags from recycled paper. These choices really matter though I absolutely appreciate that these can often be costlier options so I'm in a privileged position to make these choices. Many companies are seeing the business opportunity of transitioning to low-carbon options, so I hope this results in green choices also being the most cost effective ones.