Insurers under pressure to shore up climate strategies

The world's oldest market has been the target of many protests

Insurers under pressure to shore up climate strategies


By Bethan Moorcraft

Climate protestors spilled 220 gallons of fake oil outside the Lloyd’s of London headquarters in October as part of a campaign against the finance industry’s support of fossil fuel projects.

This was one of a series of climate protests held outside the HQ of the world’s oldest insurance market by climate activist group Insurance Rebellion, which is continually protesting Lloyd’s underwriting of fossil fuel projects, including Canada’s controversial Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline. The group has also thrown green paint over the front of the Lloyd’s building, set off a stink device, and dumped fake coal at the HQ using a tipper truck.

“Lloyd’s of London doesn’t seem to be getting the message that insuring coal, oil, and tar sands is ensuring climate breakdown. We feel we have no choice but to escalate our actions at its headquarters,” said a member of Insurance Rebellion during the so-called Defund Climate Chaos protests on October 29.

“We can’t stand by while its shareholders make huge profits from destroying the planet and killing us, so our actions will continue escalating until they stop. It is utterly grotesque that Lloyd’s of London made its name and vast wealth as the main insurer of slave ships until slavery was abolished; it hasn’t paid a penny in reparations to the communities it helped destroy, and it’ll do the same with fossil fuels unless we stop it first.”

Insurance Rebellion is not alone in piling the pressure on the insurance industry to end all support and funding for oil exploration projects and other fossil fuel-related activities. Another climate group, Coal Action Network, has also held multiple “climate justice memorials” at Lloyd’s, laying wreaths outside the main building with the names of what they believe are “climate-wrecking projects”.

When quizzed recently about whether Lloyd’s’ reputation on environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters has been tarnished as a result of the climate protests held outside its HQ in 2021, Patrick Tiernan, Lloyd’s chief of markets, said: “I think Lloyd’s has been very clear on its ESG commitments, in particular, our strategy to ensure the transition. I think that’s really important, and it’s a smart strategy for us and for all the stakeholders around Lloyd’s and around the world.”

Also in October 2021, Lloyd’s announced it was joining the UN-convened Net Zero Insurance Alliance (NZIA), through which the Lloyd’s Corporation has committed to transition all of its operational and attributable greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050 at the latest, while also supporting all Lloyd’s market participants to introduce and implement their own net-zero plans.

“As we look forward to 2022 and beyond, and obviously I’ve got a little bit more of an insight on this, I think the work that’s being done at the Lloyd’s Corporation, and at many of the managing agents around the corporation […] have demonstrated the best of this market and are showing our purpose in leading in this space,” Tiernan added.

Despite Lloyd’s making several ESG and climate-related pledges in recent years, that has not stopped climate protestors targeting the insurance market, especially when it comes to involvement with the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline.

In September, an open letter directed at the CEOs of Lloyd’s of London, AIG, Chubb, Energy Insurance Limited, and Liberty Mutual, among others, urged the insurance leaders to rule out insurance for the Trans Mountain Expansion project. The open letter argued that the pipeline expansion project from Alberta to Vancouver would result in up to 590,000 barrels per day of tar sands bitumen – which protestors call one of the “the dirtiest forms of fossil fuels” – resulting in “the addition of up to 152 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere annually”.

The letter - penned by nearly two-dozen environmental and Indigenous groups - accuses the insurers of “recklessly pursuing profit while ignoring impacts to people and the planet.” That social pressure is only going to increase as the impacts of climate change become clearer over time.

Brokerage giant Aon recently warned that companies, insurers included, may experience negative consequences in the form of costly litigation with financial and reputational consequences if they’re not prepared to address their climate impact and be very clear about their risk management and disclosure plans.

“What we are seeing is a quickly evolving landscape, and one in which the leaders of companies have to find ways to sort through the noise and really stay on top of [ESG] issues,” said Laura Wanlass, senior client partner and the global governance consulting services practice leader at Aon plc. “It’s important that they not only know about these issues, but they have proper governance mechanisms in place to mitigate the risks [associated with] these issues.”

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