Steve Waygood is chief responsible investment officer for Aviva Investors and a member of the asset manager's investment committee.
He led the creation of Aviva Investors' approach to responsible investment, which now integrates environmental social and corporate governance issues into approximately £350bn of assets under management.
As important as that work has been, there are many more strings to his climate bow. For his entire career – which started at campaign group WWF – he has devoted himself to finding ways that finance can help solve a host of sustainability challenges.
His advice on sustainable capital markets is sought at the very highest levels of government. He collaborated on the EU's Action Plan for Sustainable Finance Growth and is an influential participant in the UN's climate change talks.
Among the initiatives he has helped found are the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark, the World Benchmarking Alliance, the UN Sustainable Stock Exchange Initiative and the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Coalition.
He also finds time to teach at Cass Business School and is a senior associate at the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.
What inspired you to work on climate change issues?
As a child I watched David Attenborough documentaries and vividly remember him talking about the challenges humanity presented to nature, and vice-versa. I found it quite hard viewing, and that really stayed with me.
Later I did an degree in economics which included the economics of our environment. The professor teaching the course was inspirational and I decided I wanted to continue working in that area.
I was living in Guildford and I realised the UK headquarters of WWF was a few miles away in Godalming. It was hard to get a job there, but I discovered the temp agency that took people in to do jobs like stuffing envelopes, and got in that way. The five years I spent there were an inspiration.
What are your work priorities right now?
I see four pandemic-scale problems where finance must do what it can, but we also need governments to correct the market failures. First, anti-microbial resistance: we are already approaching a million deaths a year and the forecasts for where we could be in 2050 are unconscionable.
Second is biodiversity: the loss of biodiversity in the abstract is obviously a concern, but there are terrible consequences for the global economic output if ecosystem services fail.
Third is climate change. Fourth is diversity and exclusion, and income and wealth inequality. Having reached the scale that it has, it is creating civil unrest and testing the rule of law and the ability of governments to govern.
On climate, the UN's COP 26 climate change talks provide an enormous opportunity. We are proposing an international platform for climate finance that brings together the multilateral institutions with the capitalists, so we can finance the transition we need to deliver on the Paris Agreement.
Tell me one step the insurance industry needs to take, to improve its response to climate change?
We need to show we have social purpose. Insurance should be proud that we are there for people at times of great risk and hazard. In this case, we're talking planetary risk, so the one thing that all insurance companies should do is ensure that our trade associations and our own policy advocacy recognises the physical consequences of climate change are profoundly negative.
And we need to do everything we can to face off the fossil fuel sector in their own advocacy. They spend literally hundreds of millions per year on their own advocacy, fighting transition risk. We need to be at least equal and opposite in fighting for transition to happen.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic we can avoid the worst effects of climate change?
You can be glass half-full, glass half-empty, and you can have a bone dry glass!
I'm glass half-full: if you consider the scale of the problem, the woeful structure of our global governance and the increasingly poor esteem that many countries hold our multilateral institutions in – and yet still believe that something can be done – you have to be optimistic.
And incidentally, I believe it's not too late [to avoid the worst effects]. I've seen enough change in the last two decades to make me confident that it is within our ability to continue to change at the pace and scale that's required.
What are you doing personally to reduce your climate impact?
We've lived in our home for 19 years and we have had electricity supplied by Ecotricity since the start. We have rooftop solar, and the highest-specification insulation. We also offset
emissions from cars and flights. We try and walk the talk, but I am not going to pretend to be holier than thou.