Rowan Douglas is head of the Climate and Resilience Hub at Willis Towers Watson, supporting the management, regulation and financing of risks from climate, terrorism, cyber and other perils.
He is also chair and creator of the Willis Research Network (WRN) that links more than 60 organisations in science, academia, think-tanks and the private sector to confront risk modelling challenges.
Throughout his career he has done much to advance the science and practice of risk, and create bridges between insurance, governments and other sectors to help solve global sustainability challenges.
In 2015, he founded the Insurance Development Forum with the World Bank, UN and global industry leaders to address the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Agreements. He received a CBE in 2016 for services to the economy through risk, insurance and sustainable growth.
What inspired you to work on climate change issues?
Like many career paths, it was an evolution rather than a decisive choice. But as time has passed the emphasis has become greater.
I led aspects of analytics at Willis Re for a number of years and had the privilege of creating the WRN in 2006. That opened up a new world for me into science, public policy, international institutions and regulators.
On the one hand, I could see how the hard-won lessons of the reinsurance sector in its journey from relative ruin to relative resilience over two decades – via analytics, catastrophe modelling, risk-smart capital, a regulatory revolution and stress testing – could bring enormous value to a wider world now waking up to climate risks, but relatively unaware of how to understand them.
Meanwhile, I could see our challenge in the sector was under-insurance and it was vital to work with policymakers and regulators to help them understand these risks and how important it was to manage and insure them. It was a combination of a grand challenge and a commercial mission.
What are your work priorities right now?
Internally, it is continuing to build a strong climate and resilience team at Willis Towers Watson, and integrate our capabilities across the company's segments, geographies and corporate functions. It is a pleasure helping to blend our emerging talent and senior colleagues for a purpose-driven, commercial mission that is exciting everyone.
Externally, it is to support the implementation of the TCFD and other initiatives such as the Insurance Development Forum and the Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment that seek
to use the capabilities and influence of finance to drive greater climate resilience and protect lives, livelihood and assets in the years ahead.
This means helping to mobilise the public and private sector, science and NGO players with a collective focus and agenda for the COP 26 meeting in Glasgow next year.
Tell me one step the insurance industry needs to take, to improve its response to climate change?
An overall mindset change. Recognise that while there are many big challenges to overcome, it is fundamentally a strategic opportunity for the industry to lead the transition to a lower carbon and resilient economy.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic we can avoid the worst effects of climate change?
I find myself often holding both feelings simultaneously! It's a massive challenge and we are not on the right course yet. But there has been a big change in sentiment and action in the last five years, so there is progress to build on.
What are you doing personally to reduce your climate impact?
The regular stuff that most aware folks are doing, but it's not enough. Covid lockdown has shown that some things we thought were necessary are not, and that we can deal with more radical changes than we perhaps realised. It has been a dreadful and tragic episode for many, but it may have bring forward some important changes in how we organise our work and domestic lives.