New coal power projects are becoming “effectively uninsurable” outside China because so many insurance companies have ruled out support for them, a report has found.
Recent commitments to stop underwriting coal by prominent US insurers AIG and Travelers have brought the number of coal insurance exit policies to 41, according to the latest industry scorecard by the climate campaign Insure Our Future.
The scorecard ranks the top global fossil fuel insurers on the quality of their fossil fuel exclusion policies. It shows that 62% of the reinsurance market and 39% of the primary insurance market are now covered by coal exclusions, with Allianz, Axa and Axis Capital ranking top for the robustness and breadth of their policies.
Many of the remaining insurers without coal exclusions are not active in the fossil fuel sector.
Insure Our Future says that many of the key laggards that are continuing to underwrite new coal projects are unlikely to be able to mobilize the expertise and capacity needed to insure big, complex new coal power plants.
There has also been a significant shift away from oil and gas. At the time of last year’s climate talks in Glasgow, only three companies had any restrictions on insuring conventional oil and gas projects. But in the past year, another 10 insurers have followed suit.
The latest company to do so is the world’s largest reinsurer, Munich Re, which published an ambitious oil and gas exit policy earlier this month. That means more than a third of the reinsurance market is now covered by oil and gas exclusions.
Peter Bosshard, who coordinates the international Insure Our Future campaign, attributes the shift largely to climate campaigning. “So far, there hasn’t been real regulatory pressure. And there hasn’t been market pressure… as in the short term, it’s still a profitable business. So we think public pressure has really made an essential difference “.
He adds that insurance companies have also felt the heat from their employees. “Insurance companies have warned about climate risks for decades and have made climate action part of their public brands. So pressure from the outside I think has also triggered pressure from within. “
The scorecard identifies the UK’s Lloyd’s of London, the world’s biggest market for energy insurance, as a key laggard. It notes that the organization is one of the few remaining European insurers without an oil and gas exclusion and has criticized its 2020 coal exit policy which makes it a non-mandatory guideline for its members.
Although it can be difficult to find out what insurance companies are actually underwriting, climate campaigners have succeeded in drawing attention to the industry’s role in particular high-profile projects.
A total of 18 companies have now ruled out support for the east African crude oil pipeline (EACOP), including two of Australia’s biggest insurers, QBE and Suncorp, and Italy’s biggest insurer, Generali.
Isobel Tarr from the UK-based Coal Action Network said the growing rejection of EACOP was a sign that the tide was turning on fossil fuel projects. “More and more insurers are weighing up the risks and can see that a mega-pipeline … threatening Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest freshwater reserve, and contributing significantly to the climate crisis, is not worth the risk.”
But she noted that all of the companies that have failed to rule out insurance for EACOP have syndicates at Lloyd’s of London, “where the companies behind EACOP have reportedly been looking for insurance cover”.
She said that Lloyd’s weak exclusions meant controversial coking coalmines, such as the Whitehaven mine in Cumbria, could still be insured, and called for the organization to rule out all new fossil fuel projects.
Despite the overall increase in exclusion policies, campaigners say voluntary action is not enough and are calling for greater regulation. Insure Our Future noted that the EU prohibited insurance of the transportation of Russian crude oil in June – part of the sanction regime it imposed on Russia – demonstrated “that regulators can act quickly and effectively in crisis situations”.
In June, the UN-backed Race to Zero campaign made explicit for the first time that members of net zero alliances “must phase down and out all unabated fossil fuels”. But Renaud Guidée, chief risk officer of Axa and chair of the Net Zero Insurance Alliance, has resisted the call to require members to exclude coverage.
A Lloyd’s spokesperson said the organization was “committed to insuring the transition to net zero by providing the vital risk management solutions that will enable multi-sector decarbonisation, large-scale clean energy investment and expansion, together with deploying an increasing proportion of capital to support climate innovation “.
Lloyd’s would not disclose how many of its syndicates have decided not to underwrite new coal projects, but said it had asked all managing agents to develop their own environmental, social and governance targets and policies for inclusion in their underwriting strategies: “While it is up to each individual managing to decide its own climate targets and policy, the corporation remains of the view that ceasing to provide new cover for these classes, and phasing out of existing cover by 2030, remains a sensible and pragmatic ambition for supporting the energy transition. “