Dear Evan Greenberg, Climate Leaders Don’t Insure Tar Sands Pipelines

This article was written by Elana Sulakshana and was originally published by Common Dreams on August 3, 2021.

Canada’s Trans Mountain pipeline is an environmental and human rights disaster. It transports tar sands, one of the world’s dirtiest fossil fuels, from Alberta to Vancouver, across the territories of Indigenous Peoples who have made their opposition to the pipeline clear. Its 85 spills to date have poisoned lands and waters. And the proposed Trans Mountain expansion would triple the flow of oil and substantially increase the risk of catastrophic spills, particularly in the fragile Burrard Inlet.

No one can call themselves a climate leader and support this pipeline. Yet that’s exactly what Chubb, the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurer, is doing. Chubb CEO Evan Greenberg talks a big game on climate, but Chubb is still insuring Trans Mountain, driving catastrophic climate change and trampling the rights of Indigenous Peoples. When the current certificate of insurance expires on August 31, Greenberg has an opportunity to cut ties with the pipeline. And if he’s serious about being a climate leader, that’s exactly what he’ll do.

What’s wrong with Trans Mountain?

Canada’s oil and gas sector is the main reason that the country is unlikely to meet its 2030 Paris climate target. Tar sands is among the most carbon-intensive sources of oil on the planet, with emissions 70% above the global average.

Trans Mountain also threatens fragile lands and wildlife. The expansion pipeline has an estimated 87% chance of causing a devastating oil spill in the waters off the Pacific Northwest, waterways that Indigenous tribes have spent decades restoring to health.

Traditional owners of the land—including the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Squamish Nation, Coldwater Indian Band, and Ts’elxwéyeqw Tribes—have made it clear that this pipeline and its expansion do not have their free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC). FPIC is enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada officially adopted in 2016.

Will Chubb drop Trans Mountain?

Insurers are fleeing this toxic pipeline in droves: 15 major insurers have already ruled out insuring it. Argo, which is currently insuring the pipeline, has committed to drop it when the certificate expires on August 31, saying the pipeline is not within the company’s “risk appetite.” Scor and Lancashire, who have insured the pipeline in the past, also committed this summer to never cover it again. And just this week, Cincinnati Global ruled out getting involved.

Insurers fleeing the pipeline threaten its ability to operate, and Trans Mountain has gone so far as to request—and receive—the right to hide the names of its insurers. But until the insurers listed on the last public certificate of insurance publicly commit to cut ties, we have every reason to assume they are still insuring the pipeline.

That means we need Chubb to publicly drop Trans Mountain, as Indigenous and environmental advocates have been calling on them to do. In May, over 70 organizations wrote a letter to Chubb CEO Evan Greenberg asking him to take action on climate and cut ties with Trans Mountain. In June, protests across the world called on Trans Mountain’s insurers to stop supporting this devastating pipeline.

Greenberg’s climate action falls short of his rhetoric

Greenberg’s failure to act on climate is particularly disappointing in light of his climate rhetoric. As early as 2006, Greenberg stated that “no greater problem confronts mankind than global warming.” In 2019, Chubb became the first U.S. company to adopt a policy restricting the company’s coal business. Greenberg said that the policy reflected “Chubb’s commitment to do our part as a steward of the Earth.”

But these words mean little when Chubb remains a top global oil and gas insurer. As other US insurers—such as AXIS Capital, The Hartford, MetLife, and The Hanover—restrict support for tar sands, Chubb continues to underwrite tar sands pipelines like Trans Mountain with no restrictions.

It also has not ruled out insuring Arctic drilling, despite the impacts on wildlife and Indigenous communities. The six largest US banks have all ruled out support for oil and gas drilling projects in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as have insurance companies like AXA, Swiss Re, AXIS Capital, MAPFRE, and QBE.

In fact, Chubb has done absolutely nothing to reign in fossil fuel support since adopting its coal policy in 2019. Its coal policy has been exceeded by U.S. peers like The Hartford and AXIS Capital, and it lags far behind European and Australian counterparts. The coal policy still includes major loopholes around new coal projects and the definition of coal companies that Greenberg has refused to close.

The planet cannot afford fossil fuel expansion, and neither can Chubb

Chubb’s failure to act has implications for its bottom line. The UK’s largest asset manager, Legal & General, recently divested from AIG as a result of its coal underwriting policies. Meanwhile, Chubb is on the hook for costs related to insuring a coal mine. Insurers are facing increasing costs for major oil spills, not to mention the costs of climate change itself: global industry losses from natural catastrophes were $82 billion in 2020.

The IEA has made it clear that the planet cannot afford any new fossil fuel infrastructure if we are to avoid climate catastrophe. That includes new coal projects and new oil and gas installations like the Trans Mountain expansion. The Capital Monitor recently asked the top global oil and gas insurers about their reactions to the IEA report’s finding that to align with 1.5ºC, there must be an immediate cessation to investing in and building new oil and gas projects. Chubb refused to even respond.

So much for being a climate leader.

If Evan Greenberg truly wants to step up and tackle the climate crisis, it’s time for action to match rhetoric. He can start by dropping Trans Mountain and adopting a policy to rule out insuring all fossil fuel expansion projects.

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