Aviva has today announced it will be the first major insurer worldwide to target net zero carbon by 2040. As a first step to achieve net zero emissions from its investments, Aviva announces it will divest, by the end of 2022, from all companies which make more than 5% of their revenue from coal unless they have signed up to the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). Reclaim Finance welcomes this move but calls on Aviva to clarify its net zero announcement and draw clear red lines against the expansion of fossil fuels.
“If Aviva wants its net zero target to have teeth, it must immediately rule out all investments and coverage in companies developing new coal and fossil fuel projects. As a member of the PPCA, Aviva must also prove that it is serious about supporting a 1.5°C compliant coal phase-out. Instead of letting the SBTi drive its coal exit, Aviva must require coal companies it invests in to adopt an asset-based coal exit plan. Failure to comply will otherwise sadly confirm that the SBTi is becoming a new tool for greenwashing” comments Lucie Pinson, founder and director of Reclaim Finance.
A WELCOME BUT AMBIGUOUS NET ZERO ANNOUNCEMENT
Aviva has today announced it will be the first major insurer worldwide to target Net Zero carbon by 2040.
- Aviva had already committed to achieve net zero emissions from its investments by 2050, as a member of the Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance, along with other insurers, such as Allianz, AXA, Generali, Munich Re, SCOR, Swiss Re and Zurich.
- It remains unclear whether today’s announcement is a firm commitment or just an ambition to achieve a net-zero target by 2040.
- What is striking is that Aviva uses unambiguous wording about targeting net zero emissions from its investments by 2050, but does not make a similar statement regarding insurance coverage. Fossil fuel projects have never been a focus of Aviva’s underwriting but it has apparently insured a few of them in the past. Today, Aviva commits to restrict its insurance coverage to companies active in coal and unconventional fossil fuels unless they sign up to the SBTi. However, Aviva should unambiguously clarify its exposure to fossil fuels through its underwriting and commit not to insure any new fossil fuel projects in order to be consistent with a 1.5°C target.
- Aviva plans to achieve its net zero target through emissions reduction and negative emissions technologies, such as nature-based solutions. Aviva needs to clarify to what extent CCS and nature-based solutions will be used to achieve its net-zero target. Aviva should also clarify what climate scenario it intends to use to make its announcement credible.
- Aviva plans to reduce by 60% the carbon intensity of its investments by 2030, via an intermediate target of 25% by 2025. Aviva proudly states that “this is ahead of the 50% cut required by the Paris Agreement”. This statement is highly misleading as the 50% refers to absolute carbon reductions while Aviva’s targets are based on a relative metric. Aviva should commit to absolute GHG emissions reduction targets.
TOO MANY BLIND SPOTS
The main concern one can have is that Aviva fails announcing any measure dedicated to prevent the expansion of new fossil fuel projects. According to the Production Gap report, fossil fuel production must go down by 6% a year until 2030 in order to align with a 1.5°C trajectory. To stop adding new oil, gas and coal production projects is a logical measure to take and Aviva should commit to stop investing in any company developing new fossil fuel reserves or supporting the opening of new reserves through the building of large transport infrastructures.
- One could think that it’s the end of the party for the coal industry, in which Aviva holds $1.7bn. Indeed, the 5% threshold is very low and a great step forward compared to Aviva’s previous coal policy. However, several concerns can be raised beyond the fact that companies that have signed up to the SBTi can fall between the cracks.
- The policy does not apply to the assets managed by Aviva Investors for third parties. While they make up only 20% of Aviva Investors’ assets under management, they are invested in some of the worst coal companies, including PGE, which is pursuing the extension of the Turów open pit lignite mine across Poland and Czech Republic.
- Despite focusing its divesment measures on coal, Aviva fails to commit to fully exit the coal sector by 2040 worldwide. As a member of the Power Past Coal Alliance, Aviva has committed to exit coal by 2030 in Europe and OCDE and by 2050 worldwide, which is 10 years too late. Moreover, Aviva also falls short of best practices which require conditioning its investment to companies’ adoption of an asset-based coal phase-out plan. This explains why Aviva remains invested in many companies that don’t have any coal exit plan.
A DANGEROUS COP-OUT BASED ON SBTi
We can expect many of these companies – which make more than 5% of their revenue from coal – to disappear from Aviva’s balance sheet by the end of 2022, unless they have signed up to the SBTi by then. And this is possible.
- Aviva policy mentions a “sign up” to SBTi targets and not a validation of the targets, which is very different. 550 companies and financial institutions had decarbonization targets validated by the SBTi in January 2020 and more than 1,130 have signed up to the initiative. The SBTi reports that 10 to 20 companies are signing up every week (1).
- Beyond the issue of signing up but not having validated targets yet, the issue lies in the quality of the SBTi to assess companies fitness to align with a net-zero target. Some of the 550 companies with validated targets have targets of well below 2°C or of 2°C, and not of 1.5°C as required by climate science. It’s unclear if Aviva will exclude coal companies above the 5% threshold if they have adopted these inadequate targets. Fortunetaly, this is not a question that will arise for companies which don’t yet have validated targets but are planning to in the future, as the SBTi is only accepting 1.5°C-compliant submissions from now on.
- However, the SBTi does not disclose the methodology that allows it to validate companies’ targets. RWE, to which Aviva is exposed, has a SBTi-validated plan despite planning on operating its coal assets until 2038 – eight years after what climate science requires and after the coal exit date Aviva claims to be committed to.
- Moreover, while the SBTi validates companies’ targets, it does not assess the measures and strategy developed by companies to achieve these targets. In other words, the SBTi does not guarantee that these targets will be met.