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Climate activists increase pressure on insurance executives

Climate activists increase pressure on insurance executives

(Reuters) – A group of climate activists has called on 30 insurance company bosses to “immediately” stop underwriting new fossil fuel projects in the wake of a stark climate warning from U.N. scientists, a letter seen by Reuters showed.

Insure our Future, a global consortium of activists, said it sent the letter dated March 21 to companies including Munich Re Co., Zurich Insurance Ltd. and Axa SA.

The six-page letter, signed by 23 climate groups, including non-governmental organizations, said the insurance industry had failed to do enough to meet the world’s climate goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Other demands included stopping insurance for new fossil fuel customers not aligned with the goal and adopting binding targets to reduce insured emissions by July 2023.

“Insurers, as society’s risk managers, have a special responsibility to act and the power to drive change: without insurance most new fossil fuel projects cannot go ahead and existing ones cannot continue to operate,” it read.

The letter follows last week’s warning from U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres that the “climate time bomb is ticking” and urged rich countries to cut emissions sooner after a new assessment from scientists said there was little time to lose in tackling climate change.

While some insurers have tightened underwriting and investment policies to exclude some polluting industries from their business, the most stringent policies have focused primarily on coal rather than oil and gas.

“Numerous loopholes in policies and standards allow insurers to continue underwriting the expansion of fossil fuel production,” the letter said.

Peter Bosshard, one of the letter’s authors with The Sunrise Project, said in an interview that climate-related resolutions were already on the agenda at U.S. insurers, and more could follow.

U.S. insurers Chubb Ltd., Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. and Travelers Cos. Inc. are among companies facing climate-focused shareholder resolutions at upcoming annual shareholder meetings.

“We are considering doing the same with Japanese insurers for next year. And also with the European insurers if they don't get more serious,” Mr. Bosshard said.

Neither Munich Re nor Zurich Insurance responded specifically to questions about the letter but both said they were in regular contact with NGOs.

Munich Re said it was “in a constant process” in its path to net-zero carbon emissions. Zurich said it was “not a major insurance provider” to the fossil fuel industry and had reduced its market share, a trend it expected would continue.

Axa said its commitment to financing the energy transition was “ambitious,” but it did not plan to stop investing in oil and gas “which are now essential for households and businesses, and therefore for our economies.”

Some industry executives have argued that if they sever ties too quickly with polluting industries unemployment would rise, and activists were too focused on stopping activities rather than on transformation.