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Editorial: The rights and the responsibilities of activism

Editorial: The rights and the responsibilities of activism | Insurance Business

Editorial: The rights and the responsibilities of activism

Since leaving the City of London to return to my family home in a small town in Ireland, there have been many occasions when I have wished that the teleporter system developed by scientists from the Hasso Plattner Institute was a little more accessible. Last Friday’s breaking news story that revealed climate activists had dumped fake coal outside the Lloyd’s of London headquarters was one of those occasions.

Read more: Climate activists target Lloyd's with a tipper truck

Images from the incident show the protestors, two of whom were arrested at the scene, wielding placards declaring a variety of messages, from ‘we are the dead canaries’ to ‘insuring fossil fuels = ensuring climate breakdown’. It’s not the first time that Lloyd’s has been the target of such actions, with Lloyd’s professionals returning to the underwriting hall last September to be faced with campaigners from Insure Our Future.

Extinction Rebellion, which has the mission statement of averting climate change by triggering political, economic and social revolution, recently made headlines after activists vandalised the windows of HSBC’s headquarters in Canary Wharf. This occurred only two weeks after protestors smashed windows at Barclays in London. It’s a pattern of behaviour from the group which is asking insurance companies to wake up and own up to the role they play in financing environmentally damaging projects such as the Adani coal mine.

It’s a fair message with an estimable goal and there can be little doubt that further discussions on this subject need to be held, and held fast. Personally, however, I would add the caveat that there is nothing fair or admirable about the ways these protests have unfolded. There is nothing commendable about intimidatory protest or vandalism and the idea that people are claiming such action in the name of a worthy cause is bemusing at best and downright dystopian at worst.

As somebody who has the right to vote and to own land because of the activists who came before me, I will always champion the right and indeed even the responsibility to protest when something is morally amiss. But watching images of the protests at Lloyd’s, despite my own convictions around the need for sustainability and environmental action, the morally amiss action seemed to be those of the protestors, who left a significant, unpleasant state of disarray for others to clean up.

I would ask those protestors to actually take a second to think about who had to clear away the literal rubble when that scene was cleared because I’d hazard a guess it wasn’t any of the decision-makers at Lloyd’s. And nor should it have been. So who do these actions hurt the most? My money and my sympathy are with the cleanup crews, the repairers and the workers going about their day to day business.

Climate activists have every right to protest, but I believe they need to adapt their message to the world that we live in. Because it’s a very different world to the one that required suffragettes to handcuff themselves to buildings or throw themselves in front of carriages. We live in a world where the people in power need to be convinced, not threatened, into doing what is right.

All that incidents such as the above serve to achieve is to confirm the suspicion of many not convinced about the need for climate change action – that those who are, are extremists, eager to go instantly to the well of disruption.

This is an insurance problem and insurance businesses must embrace that. But industry conversations about this problem would not be complete without touching on the work so many reinsurers, insurers, brokers and associated partners have been doing in the climate space for many years. The likes of Swiss Re, Travelers and AXA XL to name but a few have done so much in the way of thought leadership and it seems every week brings further news of insurers outlining their climate action plans, or refusing to underwrite or invest in environmentally damaging activities.

Read more: Swiss Re on why the pandemic must not overshadow the need to transition to a low-carbon future

I don’t think these decisions are being undertaken because a multi-billion dollar global corporation is afraid of having its windows broken. No. I believe it’s because insurance professionals know they need to take this action because flood risk models say they must, because the science behind climate change says they must, because risk managers and data analytics professionals that they trust implicitly, that haven’t let them down yet, say they must.

The tipper truck doesn’t get a say in this conversation, though that’s not to say that, if it could talk, it wouldn’t make some compelling points regarding why an unnecessary journey by a carbon-heavy vehicle might not be a great message, all things considered…