Swenja Surminski

Swenja is a Professor in Practice at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, part of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), overseeing social science research projects on climate adaptation, Loss and Damage of climate change, and disaster risk finance with a geographic scope ranging from the UK  to developing countries. Swenja’s research is investigating climate risk management and resilience strategies focusing on public policies, financial instruments and  individual behaviour through a mix of inter-disciplinary approaches, integrating concepts from geography, climate science, economics and governance studies:

  • Principal Investigator for the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance (ZFRA) project, launching a new flood resilience research group.
  • Co-PI for GCRF Development Corridors Partnership project funded by Research Councils UK through the Global Challenges Research Fund. The project seeks to advance African and Chinese capacity to address development challenges through corridors in africa, investigating how those investment decisions can be more aligned with sustainable development goals and exploring the role of multi-sectoral partnerships in driving growth corridors.
  • Case study lead ‘Uncertainty reduction in models for understanding development’ (UMFULA), part of the Future Climate for Africa (FCFA) Programme, jointly funded by the UK Department for International Development and the UK Natural Environment Research Council; investigating the role of climate data in decision-making in Malawi, Tanzania, and Zambia.
  • PI of the LSE IGA/Rockefeller project ‘ Evaluating the Resilience Impact of Climate Insurance (ERICI)‘ – investigating insurance as a tool for financial and climate resilience. The project uses innovations in subjective measures to explore how climate insurance can improve resilience of the world’s poor.
  • Chapter lead on business and industry for UK Climate Change Risk Assessment.

She has published widely on these topics and is a contributing author to the IPCC and the EU Science for Disaster Risk Management Report. She is co-founder of the  ‘Loss and Damage Network’–bringing together academics and practitioners working on the UNFCCC’s L&D work program. She works closely with industry and policy makers and was appointed Visiting Academic at the Bank of England in 2015 to work on the regulator’s first report on climate change (PDF). Swenja was selected lead author for the business and industry chapter of the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment in 2017  and  Lead Academic for a World Bank project on the benefits of Disaster Risk Management (DRM), working with the Overseas Development Institute to explore how the co-benefits of DRM measures can strengthen the economic case for investment (PDF). Swenja was the GRI-lead in the Costing Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation in Ireland project, in collaboration with University College Cork and funded by the Environmental Protection Agency in Ireland. From 2012 – 2016 she was Principal Investigator for the EU’s FP7-project ENHANCE, conducting an analysis of disaster risk management partnerships across Europe and an investigation of the UK’s new Flood Re insurance arrangement.


Prior to joining LSE in 2010 Swenja spent more than ten years in the insurance industry working on climate and risks management, including roles at Munich Re, Marsh Mc Lennon and the Association of British Insurers. Swenja was a Fulbright Scholar in the US, studying Ecological Economics and International Relations at the University of New Hampshire and received a PhD in Political Science from Hamburg University for her work on ‘Climate Change and the Insurance Industry’ in 2002.

Research interests

  • Insurance of climate and disaster risks: governance, public-private partnerships and political processes
  • The role of insurance in climate resilient development – measuring resilience impact, subjective resilience indicators
  • Flood insurance in developed countries, emerging markets and the developing world;
  • UNFCCC’s Loss and Damage policy area
  • The benefits of disaster risk management
  • Private sector adaptation


Research - 2023

The authors of this paper use an innovative analytical approach to investigate the knowledge gaps and challenges associated with considering multiple resilience dividends in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of disaster risk reduction interventions at the community level for the example of flood risk. Read more

Research - 2022

This analysis shows that urban flood resilience as a concept has evolved over the last two decades. From an engineering concept with a strong focus on ensuring that the built environment can withstand a flood to a more recent definition as a transformative process with the aim to enable all parts of the urban system to live with floods and learn from previous shocks. Read more

This paper explores how climate risk information produced in the context of insurance-related activities can support public climate adaptation planning. The central contribution is to outline how relevant climate risk information can translate into behaviour change, and the drivers and barriers that influence this in Sub-Saharan Africa. Read more

Research - 2021

In this paper the authors advance a novel approach to integrated assessment of the ways in which the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are likely to manifest and interact within a given development context, using Q-Methodology and the conceptual framing of imaginaries. Read more

Using the example of flood risk in England and Wales, this study looks at both the evidence for and drivers of business lock-ins to the physical risks from climate change. The findings show that decisions made today can lock businesses into future risk trajectories that may be difficult and costly to change. Read more

The concept of ‘multiple resilience dividends’ is not yet widely applied. This paper analyses the knowledge gaps and challenges that arise from applying ‘multiple resilience dividends’ in the planning, implementation and evaluation of disaster risk reduction interventions at the community level. Read more

Research - 2020

The analysis suggests that the Sustainable Development Goals and their targets mostly create conditions that aid the achievement of each other within development corridors but that there are trade-offs between some goals and other development gains. The authors signal priority areas for investment, policy reorientation and strengthened safeguards, to maximise positive SDG interactions and minimise negative ones. Read more

How to effectively monitor and evaluate the use of climate and disaster risk insurance remains unclear. This paper reviews how these instruments are currently evaluated and finds a need for transparent monitoring and evaluation frameworks to enable greater scrutiny and to assist those funding, demanding or supplying insurance, with evidence from India and Africa. Read more

Analysing household data from 16 developing countries across Asia and Africa, this paper examines the landscape of access to and sources of financial services. The results shed new light on how insurance uptake could be increased through more tailored and targeted products and services that are designed to meet local needs and requirements in the face of climate and other shocks. Read more

This paper explores the role of national laws in determining the nature of flood risk management (FRM) and in particular the ability to increase flood resilience in the context of climate change. The authors therefore call for a shift in FRM away from post-event activism towards forward-looking planning through an anticipatory resilience approach. Read more

Research - 2019

This paper from the UMFULA programme investigates the potential catalyst role of insurance in adaptation to climate change in a developing country context that is characterised by low insurance penetration and a relatively low level of government planning, analysing the problem from the perspective of insurers in South Africa, Malawi and Tanzania. Read more

Research - 2018

This research explores the methodological challenges for a national-scale assessment of climate risks through the lens of the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment (UKCCRA) process and compares the approaches adopted in the first and second UKCCRA (2011, 2016), while also reflecting on international experiences elsewhere. Read more

Research - 2017

In light of increasing losses from floods many researchers and policy makers are looking for ways to encourage flood risk reduction among communities, business, and households. In this study the authors investigate risk reduction behavior at the household level in three European Union (EU) Member States with fundamentally different insurance and compensation schemes. Read more

Research - 2016

Research - 2015

In the context of natural disaster insurance and risk reduction this paper looks at how to assess existing insurance offerings and how to design new schemes. Read more

Research - 2014

By applying our analytical framework we find an absence of formal incentive mechanisms for risk reduction in the existing and proposed Flood Re scheme. We identify the barriers for applying insurance to risk reduction and point to some possible modifications in the Flood Re proposal to deliver a greater link between risk transfer and risk reduction. Read more

Research - 2013

Research - 2012

Research - 2011


Policy - 2023

Policy - 2022

Policy - 2021

Policy - 2020

This is a response to the Bank of England's discussion paper, 'The 2021 biennial exploratory scenario on the financial risks from climate change'. The response has been prepared by authors from the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at LSE, the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London, and the University of Edinburgh Business School. Read more

Policy - 2019

This submission was made to the Environment Agency's consultation on its draft strategy for flood and coastal risk management in England, and draws on the Grantham Research Institute's work and expertise over many years in this area. Read more

This paper is a submission to the second review of the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) on Loss and Damage under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which will take place at COP25 in December. The submission looks at the Loss and Damage policy debate, how it relates to other international frameworks and efforts in the areas of mitigation, adaptation, disaster risk reduction and sustainable development, and identifies how the WIM can be most effective. Read more

This paper summarises the Institute's submission to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ call for evidence on policy direction to prepare the UK for flooding and coastal erosion, drawing on a decade of work by the Grantham Research Institute with the insurance industry and policymakers addressing issues around climate change and adaptation. Read more

Policy - 2018

Policy - 2017

Policy - 2016

Policy - 2015

Policy - 2014

Policy - 2013

Flooding is the biggest natural disaster risk in England. Flood risk is expected to increase due to climate change and continued development of floodplains for residential and commercial property, which increases the exposure of homes and businesses. Addressing the causes and consequences of flooding is very important and we welcome the recent efforts by the Government and the insurance industry to reform the approach to flood insurance in England. Read more

Policy - 2011


Books - 2023

Books - 2018

Books - 2016


Events - 2024

Events - 2022

Events - 2021

Events - 2020

Events - 2019

Events - 2018

Events - 2017

Events - 2016


News - 2023

Sara Mehryar and Swenja Surminski were awarded the fifth Jose Maria Sarriegi scientific dissemination prize for the article ‘Investigating flood resilience perceptions and supporting collective decision-making through fuzzy cognitive mapping’,published in 2022 in the journal ofScience of the Total Environment. Read more

News - 2022

News - 2021

Learning lessons from the devastating flooding in Western Europe and China – and raising awareness of the importance of flood risk reduction activities and the long-term consequences of inaction – should be seen as a necessary investment in our future, write Swenja Surminski and Viktor Rözer, as they draw out particular lessons for Germany. Read more

News - 2020

A wide range of success criteria are currently used to evaluate climate and disaster risk insurance. Architesh Panda and Swenja Surminski argue that transparent monitoring and evaluation frameworks are needed to enable greater scrutiny and to assist those funding, demanding or supplying insurance instruments. Read more

The COVID-19 crisis demonstrates the need to invest much more in pre-disaster risk reduction and preparedness for a range of risks, including climate change and its accompanying hazards such as flooding. But what, asks Swenja Surminski, does this kind of investment need to consider in practice – and why is ‘resilience’ not already widely taken into account when making policy and investment decisions? Read more

Swenja Surminski discusses the impact of climate change on the UK housing sector. In this interview with Future Housing she outlines three major risk categories facing the sector: physical, transition and litigation and liability risk. She also discusses the importance of ensuring that post-COVID-19 recovery measures take account of climate targets. Read more

News - 2019

Rebecca Byrnes and Swenja Surminski outline progress of actions taken under the Warsaw International Mechanisms on Loss and Damage - which is designed to help countries deal with the harm caused by climate change - and how to enhance its effectiveness, as the COP25 climate conference gears up to reviewing the mechanism in December. Read more

News - 2018

News - 2017

News - 2016

News - 2015

News - 2014

News - 2012

Keep in touch with the Grantham Research Institute at LSE
Sign up to our newsletters and get the latest analysis, research, commentary and details of upcoming events.