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Societal and Sustainability Risks

Back to 10th Risk Summit


Changing demographics and social behaviour will shape the risk landscape over the next ten years. How will ageing populations and the ethics and preferences of the younger generation shape consumerism and cause disruptive change in buying habits and business practice? How might issues such as sustainability and environmentalism radically change purchasing patterns and investor trading strategies? How can businesses mange the risk of future emerging infectious diseases causing operational disruption? How will the increasing pensioner population put strains on healthcare, public services, and pension financing?

At a Glance: The Decade in Societal and Sustainability Risk

2009-2010: The H1N1 pandemic spreads rapidly around the world.

2013: The first EU case of the bacterial Xylella fastidiosa plant disease is detected in southern Italy.

2013: A new H7N9 influenza virus is reported in China.

2013-16: A widespread Ebola Virus occurs in Western Africa, becoming the deadliest occurrence of the disease, with 11,310 deaths reported.

2016: The Paris Agreement, intended to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5°C,  is signed following negotiations from 196 state parties.

2016: Zika Virus is declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organization.

2016: An outbreak of cholera begins in Yemen, leading to 1.2 million cases, becoming the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

2017: Blue Planet 2 series begins, triggering a swell in public interest in plastic reduction, referred to as the “Attenborough Effect”.

2018: UK government launches its first loneliness Strategy,  and introduces a new position titled Minister for loneliness.

2018: China report the first African Swine Fever outbreak, which spreads to every region in China and other parts of Southeast Asia.



Daniel Ralph

Academic Director, Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies and Professor of Operations Research, Cambridge Judge Business School

Professor Daniel Ralph is a Founder and Academic Director of the Centre for Risk Studies, Professor of Operations Research at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School, and a Fellow of Churchill College. Daniel’s research interests include identification and management of systemic risk, risk aversion in investment, economic equilibria models and optimisation methods. Management stress test, via selection and construction of catastrophe scenarios, is one focus of his work in the Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies. Another is the role and expression of risk management within organisations. Daniel engages across scientific and social science academia, a variety of commercial and industrial sectors, and government policy making. He was Editor-in-Chief of Mathematical Programming (Series B) from 2007-2013.

Visit Daniel Ralph’s faculty profile


Brendan Plessis

Executive Vice President, Head of Emerging Markets, AXA XL

Brendan Plessis is AXA XL Executive Vice President for Emerging Markets. In this role Brendan leads the development of emerging market strategies by partnering with leaders across AXA XL, in both Insurance and Reinsurance.

Brendan joined AXA XL in July 2015, previously holding a position as a managing director at Guy Carpenter & Company, Singapore. He was the head of multinational and retrocession business for South East Asia, South Korea, India, China and Greater China. Prior to working at Guy Carpenter, Brendan held various senior level positions with Willis Re Bermuda, Gallagher Re Bermuda, IBL/Independent Management Group Bermuda and Aon Limited UK.


Kayla Strong

Human and Humanity Risk Research Lead

Kayla Strong is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Risk Studies, University of Cambridge, and supports research in societal and sustainability risk.

Societal and Sustainability Risks – Centre for Risk Studies Research Outlook

View Kayla’s presentation

An overview of the research work carried out by Centre for Risk Studies for the risk class of Societal and Sustainability Risks, and description of a possible landscape of the risk over the next decade.

Professor Aled Jones

Director of the Global Sustainability Institute, Anglia Ruskin University

Professor Jones is the inaugural Director of the Global Sustainability Institute (GSI) at Anglia Ruskin University. The GSI is an internationally recognised research institute, with a group of 40 individuals. Professor Jones’ work in climate finance has been recognised by the State of California and he has received a key to the city of North Little Rock, USA. He is a Co-investigator on the ESRC Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP), the AHRC Debating Nature’s Value network and the EU H2020 MEDEAS project. He is a member of the Advisory Council for the Keeling Curve Prize.

Professor Jones’ research particularly focuses on the finance sector and government and how they will respond to the impacts of global resource trends and climate change. Professor Jones is an External Panel member of the HRH Prince of Wales Accounting for Sustainability (A4S) group and sits on the Scientific Advisory Group for the Global Food Security initiative which feeds into the UK research councils and across government. He is an author on the 3rd Climate Change Risk Assessment for the UK Government. He was a member of the UK-US Taskforce on the Impact of Extreme Weather on US/UK Food Security and a President Bill Clinton Distinguished Lecturer. Professor Jones was previously the Deputy Director at the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership, HRH Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change and was Director of the Chevening Economics of Climate Change Programme (for the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office). He was a founding member of the ClimateWise insurance principles and set up the P8 Group of global pension funds. Professor Jones has a PhD from the University of Cambridge.

Key Sustainability Issues in the Next Decade

View Aled’s presentation

This presentation will explore some of the key issues related to sustainability trends that are likely to impact business and society over the next decade. These include physical impacts from extreme weather events but also more indirect impacts driven by how society responds to these global challenges.

For example we expect to see consumer shifts (such as the recent increase in interest in vegan diets), changes in societal attitudes towards power, and significant shifts in policy and investment as governments move to tackle some of the medium to long term issues. The presentation will particularly focus on how quickly some significant changes may occur especially in energy infrastructure development and consumer purchasing.

An example of scenario work developed with the insurance sector will be presented to highlight some of the current risk analysis undertaken when exploring these short term trends.

Professor John Edmunds

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Professor John Edmunds interests are in designing effective and cost-effective control programmes against infectious diseases. This entails a mixture of mathematical models, statistical and economic analysis, and sociological studies (trying to understand how individuals mix, in order to model the spread of diseases better).

The emphasis is placed on the application of these methods to real-world problems to enable decision-makers to optimise the design of public-health control programmes.

Before joining the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, John was the Head of the Modelling and Economics Unit at the HPA (now called Public Health England), and still works with colleagues in PHE very closely on issues related to the UK vaccination programme and influenza.

John sits on a number of governmental and international committees, including the UK’s NERVTAG (New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group) and SPI-M (Scientific Pandemic Influenza – Modelling) committees as well as WHO’s Polio Research Committee.

Risk to Business and the Economy from Future Pandemics

View John’s presentation

Pandemic influenza has remained at the top of the UK Government’s non-malicious National Risk Register for many years, with both a high likelihood of occurrence and a high impact should it occur. In this talk I will briefly review the evidence as to why pandemic flu is perceived as such a threat. In addition, I will sketch how effective different countermeasures, such as vaccination and school closures, could be. In the final part of the talk I will mention other possible infectious threats to the UK.