Roelfien Kuijpers is the environmental, social and governance (ESG) client officer and head of the global client group for the UK, Scandinavia and Ireland for the Germany-based asset manager DWS.
She is recognised as a leader in climate action through asset management, as well as sustainability, diversity and equality. She has championed the integration of ESG factors into DWS's corporate strategy, investment process, products and solutions and was instrumental in DWS's early adoption of the UN Principles for Responsible Investment in 2008.
She helps develop the company's ESG strategy, chairs its Responsible Investments Leadership Team, and drives change with stakeholders. Included in her ESG remit is the almost €230bn ($260bn) of assets DWS manages on behalf of insurers.
DWS is also an active member of the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change and in recognition of this, and her leadership in the field, Roelfien was appointed to its board in November 2019. Recently, she also helped support the launch of the Coalition for Climate Resilient Investments at the UN.
What inspired you to work on climate change issues?
I have a masters degree in history so I always tend to think about large historic events and their lessons for the future – and I strongly believe that climate change is the defining issue of our time.
I'm originally from the Netherlands, where every citizen is aware of the risks of rising sea levels. There was a terrible storm in 1953 that devastated the province of Zeeland. As a child I would visit the dykes that were subsequently built to ensure this would never happen again.
Climate change is impacting different countries in different ways, for example flooding, wildfires, lack of water, and declining biodiversity. People in emerging economies tend to be the most exposed, and it's often women and children who suffer the most. All these issues are interrelated and high on my agenda.
What are your work priorities right now?
At DWS, we are enabling our insurance clients to invest in strategies that fully integrate climate risks and opportunities. Through our proprietary ESG Engine, we have significant data in place to measure climate transition risk and physical climate risk in the companies we invest in.
We also support our clients with research on issues related to climate change and how it impacts risk profiles across all asset classes.
Tell me one step the insurance industry needs to take, to improve its response to climate change?
As risk managers, risk carriers and investors, the insurance industry is directly affected by climate change and has a vital role to play in confronting it. Insurance companies should integrate climate risk issues into their risk management, underwriting, capital adequacy decision-making, and investment processes.
I also recommend that insurance companies sign up to the UN's Principles for Sustainable Insurance. It is a great forum for bringing the insurance industry together to think more broadly about climate change and sustainability.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic we can avoid the worst effects of climate change?
The Dutch are naturally optimistic because they have to keep their heads above water: literally and figuratively! I hope, collectively, we will find creative solutions to keep the global temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels as per the Paris Agreement.
But I will caveat that and say it's going to be a close call. Covid-19 has shown we cannot cope with a global pandemic and at this point we certainly can't cope with the detrimental effects of climate change.
What are you doing personally to reduce your climate impact?
Our family is incredibly conscious of our carbon footprint and feel strongly that individuals have a responsibility to lower their carbon emissions.
My children are millennials and they have been driving a lot of the behaviour – whether that is buying renewable energy for our home, switching to electric cars or moving to a mostly vegan diet.
Instead of buying new clothes and furniture, we look to buy vintage and antiques wherever we can. We use public transport in cities, and choose trains over planes.