Liberty Mutual, a major US insurer, is today holding its annual general meeting. Despite possessing a great opportunity to improve a currently deficient coal policy and to adopt a first oil & gas exclusion policy, the insurer sadly decided not to review its previous, timid commitments. This absence of climate commitments could well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back ahead of the UN Principal for Responsible Investment (UNPRI) decision on the potential exclusion of Liberty Mutual coming up on April 24th.
Liberty Mutual, an insurer with an heavy fossil fuel background
This decision by Liberty Mutual is extremely disappointing for climate and human rights. The insurer is deeply involved in the financing of coal with at least $1.015 billion invested in 32 coal companies, with a combined coal power capacity of 149GW and annual extraction of 298Mt of coal – enormous figures. According to the Insure Our Future campaign, Liberty Mutual is in fact the third biggest insurer of oil and gas in the US, a decision to adopt robust fossil fuel exclusion policy would have created a great precedent in the US.
Not only is the insurer deeply involved in the sector in general, but it is also supporting very controversial projects. The Trans Mountain pipeline is one of them. The Trans Mountain pipeline carries a massive amount of tar sands oil from Alberta (Canada) to British Columbia and the government-owned company is trying to twin the pipeline and increase capacity. Not only will this allow the exploitation of one of the most polluting types of hydrocarbons, but it is also being built without the consent of impacted First Nations along its route. Trans Mountain poses major threats for drinking water sources along its path. In spite of such social and environmental concerns, Liberty Mutual still decided to take up a $500 million insurance policy last year.
UNPRI delisting – A sword of Damocles over Liberty Mutual
Another very controversial projects Liberty is backing is the Baralaba South Coal mine in Queensland Australia. This new project of coal mine would lead to 400 millions tonnes of CO2 emissions over its whole life cycle, is threatening the drinking water of the Woorabinda Aboriginal communities, and will destroy large swamps of rich agricultural and grazing land.
The gravity of the situation is demonstrated by the fact that it has led to a formal complaint being filed to the UNPRI network, which officially accepted it last week. The UNPRI has asked Liberty to comment and then will consider whether or not to exclude Liberty from the initiative, just four months after it joined.
The urgency of adopting robust fossil fuel exclusion policies
With this missed opportunity to adopt new climate commitments Liberty Mutual is implementing a dangerous strategy for our climate and for itself, considering that the UNPRI will take its decision on the 24th of April.
For Liberty Mutual, this means there is now very little time to adopt a robust coal and oil & gas policy, especially considering its current commitment: so far it plans only to divest from companies registering more than 25% of their revenues from coal. In addition to being insufficient – best practices require a maximum 20% threshold – such a commitment will only apply from 2023 onwards. This is even less ambitious than AXIS capital and The Hartford and doesn’t cover coal and unconventional oil & gas expansion at all, even though this should be the starting point.
In other words, the way forward for Liberty Mutual is to exclude both the financing of new projects, especially in the coal and unconventional oil & gas sectors, and the financing of companies planning such new fossil fuel projects as Axa already committed to on coal. Unless such exclusion policies are adopted quickly, we have no chance of respecting the 1.5°C objective of the Paris Agreement that already implies ditching part of the existing fossil fuel reserves.
Since there is now no sign such changes will take place quickly enough, climate activists can now expect the UNPRI to take a strong and logical decision by delisting the insurer. Hopefully this will lead it to rapidly reconsider its position and send a strong signal to other fossil fuel investors and insurers that their greenwashing will not stand.