Axis Capital, Chubb and a handful of European insurers embrace a business shift to renewable energy insurance
The article was written By Rachel Koning Beals
Axis Capital Holdings Ltd AXS, +0.40% is the latest insurer to give up profit potential from coal and oil sands, a departure it says supports the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Axis said Wednesday it will not provide new insurance or facultative reinsurance for construction and infrastructure for new thermal coal plants or mines, nor for oil sands extraction and pipeline projects.
Specifically, Axis will not insure companies that generate 30% or more of their revenue from thermal coal mining or hold more than 20% of their reserves in oil sands. Renewals, however will be on a case-by-case basis.
“We believe insurers have an important role to play in mitigating climate risk and transitioning to a low-carbon economy,” said Axis President and CEO Albert Benchimol in a release. For oil sands production, oil is forced from sand at intense temperatures, using water and natural gas to separate out the extremely thick bitumen. Impure and too viscous to flow, it goes through an “upgrading” process before traveling via pipeline to an oil refinery.
“This policy is in line with our broader strategies such as reducing investments in lines that do not align with our long-term approach; investing in growth areas, such as renewable energy insurance, where we are a top five global player; and growing our corporate citizenship program, a core focus of which is creating a positive environmental impact,” Benchimol said.
The Unfriend Coal campaign said in a report last year that global losses tied to coal hit $337 billion in 2017, including insured losses of $144 billion.
“While Axis’s policy is a good step, it must eliminate the geographic loophole in its policy and stop insuring new coal projects everywhere today, especially in Southeast Asia where there are hundreds of proposed power plants. We call on insurers around the globe to step up and improve upon Axis’s policy,” said Brett Fleishman, head of global finance campaigns at advocacy group 350.org, in a tweet from Insure Our Future campaign, a consortium of activist groups.
The Bermuda-based insurer’s policy shift aligns with that of competitor Chubb Ltd CB, -1.05% , which in July became the first U.S. insurer to pledge to phase out its coal investments and insurance policies, saying then it will no longer sell new insurance policies to or invest in companies that make more than 30% of their revenue from coal mining. The company said for existing coal plants, insurance coverage for risks that exceed the 30% threshold will be phased out by 2022, and for utilities beginning in 2022.
Axis shares are down 2.6% over the past month, though up more than 22% in the year to date. Chubb shares are down 2.9% over the past month and up nearly 20% so far in 2019.
Germany’s Allianz and Italy’s Generali also pulled back some underwriting for coal companies in 2018, while the French firm Axa tightened its policy further, the Guardian reported. Lloyd’s of London agreed to exclude coal from its investment strategy beginning in April 2018. Reinsurance firms Swiss Re and Munich Re said last year they were limiting their underwriting for coal.
Climate activists at nonprofit RAN have called out other insurers including privately held Liberty Mutual for dropping coverage of corporate clients facing increased climate-linked risk while keeping up their own investment in fossil fuels and insuring coal and oil sands projects.
The Insure Our Future campaign highlighted the move’s potential significance beyond broad climate goals. It’s seen as at least a small victory for the First Nations Native American groups that have been fighting the oil sands industry for indigenous land rights.