As the hurricanes hit, Big Insurance must stop its hypocrisy

Insurance firms recognise the risks of climate chaos – but they’re still underwriting major new fossil fuel projects. Campaigners are calling on them to stop.

Suzanne Dhaliwal
7 September 2017

Image: Hurricane Harvey gathering force, Wikimedia.

The devastating impacts of climate change are everywhere right now - from the floods that left millions uprooted in Asia this summer, to the onslaughts of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

The insurance industry was one of the first to acknowledge the risks of climate change – but it continues to underwrite coal and fossil fuel projects: mines, power plants and pipelines. The insurance companies continuing to back coal projects are driving runaway climate change, devastating communities and impacting vital water and ecosystems – even as they claim to be leaders in sustainable development and the transition to a clean energy economy.

This July, climate activists attending the annual Global Insurance Forum in London urged the global insurance industry to show their commitment to insuring the world against climate chaos by stopping underwriting coal projects in the next six months.

Unfurling a banner with the words “World’s Best insurance? Keeping Coal in the Ground” the activists talked to conference attendees about the failure of the insurance industry to protect society from climate risk.

The intervention at the London conference comes only weeks after activists disrupted a gathering of industry bosses in San Francisco. Their demands were threefold - stop insuring coal projects and divest from coal companies. Develop plans to move away from other fossil fuels. Scale up their investments in clean energy sources.

The demands on the insurance industry are the next step in the global divestment movement has emerged in the last few years, demanding banks pull financing and investment away from coal and fossil fuels. 

Divest London and UK Tar Sands Network joined the call on all public and private institutions in London to cut ties with the reckless fossil fuel industry. London serves as global centre for financing coal projects all over the globe. These projects are pushing us further into climate chaos and delaying the inevitable transition in both our energy systems and economic paradigm.

We need to shift the flow of capital rapidly away from coal. The money the power industry currently plans to spend on new coal plants could instead provide electricity to 1.2 billion people currently living without it, and boost solar photovoltaic and wind power installation by 30 percent.

French insurance company Axa have already committed to stop underwriting coal amidst growing nervousness in the global insurance industry of the calculable risks posed by climate change to the company’s reputation, the economy and our communities.

We are seeing an increasing wave of activism on the insurance industry. Every time a new fossil fuel project is built, it needs to be insured. Stop the insurance, stop the project. Just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of emissions, with major European insurers amongst them, holding assets in companies which are planning to develop large scale new coal power plants. So taking action in Europe over the next few months will be essential.

We need the insurance industry and analysts to take urgent action on what they already know and what frontline communities and scientists have long been saying. The impacts of climate change pose massive risks to society and the stability of the global economy. It is imperative that the insurance industry continue to transition away from underwriting coal and highly polluting fossil fuels immediately and shift to scale up investments in renewable technology.

Written by Suzanne Dhaliwal in collaboration with Divest London and Unfriend Coal.

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