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NGOs Urge Insurers to Address COVID, Climate Responses in Tandem

A letter signed by 25 NGOs says the industry was aware of the risks of a global pandemic years ago but failed to help governments prepare effectively; the groups warn it not to make the same mistake again now that insurers recognize the climate emergency is the world’s greatest threat.

We continue to examine the many ways the ongoing COVID-19 crisis also presents an opportunity to reboot the global economy in more sustainable ways … next up: 25 NGOs from 11 countries have signed a letter, calling on insurers to address the COVID-19 and climate crises together — by working to ensure economic stimulus programs are consistent with limiting climate change to 1.5°C, in line with IPCC recommendations.

The letter, spearheaded by the Unfriend Coal coalition, reads:

“While COVID-19 is holding global society in its grip, the insurance industry must not lose sight of the most serious threat to our planet: the risk of an unmanageable climate breakdown.International insurance associations and many of their member bodies have made numerous public commitments about the need for rapid climate action. If you are serious about these commitments you now need to speak out, vigorously and publicly, at the international and national level for green and fair recovery programs which are consistent with the IPCC’s 1.5°C pathways,” the letter says.

“In addition, the insurance industry has to get its own house in order with regard to the climate crisis. Insurance associations should encourage their member companies to divest from fossil fuel companies; to end cover for coal projects, coal companies and for oil and gas expansion projects; and to commit to phasing out cover for oil and gas companies in line with a 1.5°C pathway.”

While the insurance industry has been vocal in recent years regarding the need to phase out fossil fuels and step up other measures to mitigate climate change and its effects; overall, it has been slow to position itself to be able to truly safeguard policyholders from the increased incidence of climate-fueled natural disasters around the world — including this pandemic, which the letter says was identified as “the world’s greatest threat” in a Willis Towers Watson survey of insurance executives back in 2013; climate change was named the world’s greatest threat in the 2019 survey. Those that take a holistic view of the world and our role in it have a better chance of safeguarding their own sustainability — and, in turn, ours — in an uncertain future; and the current pandemic offers an unprecedented opportunity for insurers to take proactive measures.

Unfriend Coal coordinator Peter Bosshard said: “The role of insurers is to identify and manage risks for society. Seven years ago, they recognised the threat of a global pandemic; but failed to ensure the world was prepared and simply excluded pandemic risks from their policies. Now that they acknowledge climate change is our greatest threat, they must not repeat this mistake. Insurers have a duty to speak out loud and clear for strong climate action and set an example by aligning their businesses with international climate targets.”

Progressive insurers are already responding to the call. Günther Thallinger, Chief Investment Officer of Allianz and Chair of the Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance — whose 22 members include insurers Aviva, AXA, Generali, Munich Re, Swiss Re and Zurich — said:

“Tomorrow’s recovery plans can and must lay the foundations for an irreversible shift to a resilient, net-zero and inclusive economy. The Alliance stands ready to work with governments, international agencies and other stakeholders to realise this goal.”

Time will tell if this comes to fruition.

The letter was signed by:, AVAAZ, Carbon Market Watch, Oil Change International, Waterkeeper Alliance; Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility,  Australian Conservation FoundationBushfire Survivors for Climate Action, Market Forces and Sunrise Project (Australia); SEE Change (Bosnia & Herzegovina); Reclaim Finance (France); urgewald (Germany); Re:Common (Italy); Solutions for Our Climate, KoreaEco-team, MontenegroFundacja Rozwój TAK – Odkrywki NIE and Polish Green Network (Poland); Instituto Internacional de Derecho y Medio Ambiente (Spain); InfluenceMap (UK); and Connecticut Citizen Action Group, Mothers Out Front, Rainforest Action Network, Sunflower Alliance, and Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) (USA).

Read more here and read the letter here.