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‘Insure Our Future:’ A Global Movement Says the Insurance Industry Could Be the Key to Ending Fossil Fuels

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NEW YORK—Roishetta Ozane would have rather been sitting in a rocking chair at home in Louisiana with her seven-month old grandbaby than standing outside of a multinational insurance company’s office in New York City, surrounded by dozens of police officers, speaking to a rally. 

But she’d traveled to New York City to fight for the future of her new grandchild and six children.

“I came here because decisions being made in this building impact my community miles and miles away,” Ozane said on Feb. 27, to demonstrators outside of the insurance giant AIG’s office in midtown Manhattan.

By continuing to insure fossil fuel projects—including multiple liquified natural gas terminals in the Gulf South—the American International Group and its peers in the insurance industry are ensuring disaster, Ozane said.

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“Decisions being made in this building ensure my children’s asthma, ensure my children having chronic diseases, it ensures people in my community having cancer, it ensures my community having disasters like hurricanes,” she said.

Ozane, founder of the Louisiana mutual aid and disaster relief organization the Vessel Project and a national climate movement leader, was speaking at a rally in New York City as part of Insure Our Future’s global week of action, a mobilization targeting the insurance industry’s role in driving climate disasters with its continued underwriting of fossil fuel projects. 

From Feb. 26 to March 3, the Insure Our Future campaign held a global week of action: rallies, marches, performance installations, letter deliveries, teach-ins, and other actions in 31 countries, including the United States, Tanzania, Uganda, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Nigeria, Japan, South Korea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The activists demanded that insurance companies stop underwriting new and expanded fossil fuel projects. 

Insurance companies are meant to evaluate risks and act accordingly. Recognizing that new fossil fuel infrastructure projects require insurance, the climate movement is seeking to convince the insurance industry that fossil fuel projects are not good investments due to the serious financial risks posed by climate change as extreme weather events become increasingly volatile, deadly and costly.

Focusing on insurance, which Insure Our Future calls the “Achilles heel” of the fossil fuel industry, is strategic.

“The insurance industry is the one that is sustaining this climate crisis,” said Hillary Innocent Taylor Seguya, an activist with Stop EACOP, a campaign fighting to halt the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline. “If they pull out of insuring these carbon bombs—the oil, gas and coal projects—there is no way that the fossil fuel industry will survive.”

Activists targeting insurance are savvy both to the levers of financial power and the realities of living in proximity to fossil fuel projects. Led by frontline communities who have been disproportionately burdened with toxins and worsening environmental disasters, the campaign is focused on crippling the financial viability of new fossil fuel infrastructure.

James Hiatt, founder of For A Better Bayou, an environmental justice organization in southwest Louisiana, said that the climate crisis has reached a tipping point, and insurers need to make a choice.

“We are at this juncture where we can choose life or we can choose continued death and suffering, and we’re gonna ask them to choose life,” Hiatt said. “We’re going to ask them to stop insuring the same thing that has been killing communities for a long time.”

James Hiatt, founder of For a Better Bayou, spoke outside of Tokio Marine’s office in Manhattan. “We know that continued dependence on fossil fuels will not be better for our children,” said Hiatt. Credit: Keerti Gopal/Inside Climate News

Insure Our Future points out that some insurance companies are taking steps to restrict fossil fuels: According to the campaign’s tally, 45 global insurance companies have adopted restrictions on coal, 26 companies have restricted coverage of tar sands projects and 18 have restrictions on oil and gas.

Chubb, AIG, Tokio Marine and GIP did not respond to requests for comment.

March Through Midtown

On Feb. 27, about 100 people marched from the New York Public Library’s flagship location in midtown Manhattan to the headquarters of three insurance companies: Chubb, Tokio Marine and AIG. At each, speakers who traveled to NYC from Texas and Louisiana spoke about the impacts of liquified natural gas (LNG) projects on their communities, and called for insurers to drop the projects.

Chubb is a partial insurer of the Freeport, Rio Grande and Cameron LNG terminals, Tokio Marine is a partial insurer of the Gulf and Cameron LNG terminals and AIG insures Freeport, Gulf, Cameron and Sabine Pass LNG terminals, according to information compiled by Insure Our Future, Public Citizen and the Rainforest Action Network.

Manning Rollerson, 62, has lived in Freeport, Texas, for 55 years and is a leader with Better Brazoria, a local organization fighting for clean air and water. He spoke about how the petrochemical industry and the Freeport LNG terminal—which exploded in 2022, causing more than $275 million in damages—has harmed his own family’s health. He has five kids, who he said struggled with breathing problems for which they were sometimes hospitalized. Now he’s watching some of his 27 grandchildren endure the same symptoms.

Brazoria County, which contains Freeport, has a failing air quality grade from the American Lung Association.

After the Biden administration’s decision to pause approval for LNG exports, many national climate organizations celebrated what they felt was a big win for the national movement. But organizers from the Gulf South like Rollerson, Hiatt and Ozane understood that the success was only partial—the pause didn’t impact the terminals that are already operating and have been actively polluting area communities for years. 

Manning Rollerson traveled to the NYC march from Freeport, Texas. Credit: Keerti Gopal/Inside Climate News
Manning Rollerson traveled to the NYC march from Freeport, Texas. Credit: Keerti Gopal/Inside Climate News

“Out of the ordinary things are happening to our children and there’s no accountability,” Rollerson said, describing his grandchildren experiencing spontaneous nosebleeds, which have been linked to particulate matter pollution in children and adults. 

Development of fossil fuel infrastructure in the region, framed as providing economic opportunities, has instead been costly and harmful for local residents, Rollerson said.

“If we haven’t seen the return in 50 years, where’s the money going,” he said. “Why are our children being sick with cancer, and why are we burying so many people?”

Earlier that day, a smaller group from the Gulf South delivered a letter signed by over 80 allied organizations to Global Infrastructure Partners, a private equity company with a 46 percent stake in the Rio Grande LNG terminal in Port of Brownsville, Texas. In addition to the criticism for its emissions, Rio Grande LNG has also faced opposition due to its proximity to sites sacred to the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas, including the remains of an ancient village with burial grounds, called one of America’s premier archeological sites by the World Monuments Fund.

Throughout the New York protests, leaders from the Carrizo Comecrudo tribe drew connections between resource extraction on Indigenous land in Texas and the history of colonization in the U.S. 

“Five hundred years ago they invaded these lands and occupied them, and they still are occupying them, and still are taking the resources from this land,” said Juan Mancias, tribal chairman of the Carrizo Comecrudo tribe.

The march ended at AIG, where protesters and law enforcement got into a scuffle in which several demonstrators were shoved to the ground as they attempted to enter the building past security and NYPD officers. Afterwards, a line of officers guarding the front of the building formed a backdrop for the rally’s speakers.

Activists from the Gulf South march through midtown Manhattan on Feb. 27. Credit: Keerti Gopal/Inside Climate News
Activists from the Gulf South march through midtown Manhattan on Feb. 27. Credit: Keerti Gopal/Inside Climate News

John Beard Jr., founder and executive director of the Port Arthur Community Action Network, an environmental justice nonprofit in Texas, began his speech by thanking the NYPD officers for helping to “maintain the peace.”

“We’re in this fight for you too,” Beard said to the officers. “We are all imperiled by fossil fuels that these companies such as AIG and others that we talked about today are allowing to happen.”

On Thursday, the Gulf South campaigners held another march in Houston, where about 40 people rallied at Chubb and AIG’s local offices.

“Going forward, the thing that’s really going to stop [fossil fuel projects] is stopping the financial interests that are backing them,” said Trevor Carroll, a Brazoria County organizer with the Texas Campaign for the Environment. 

A Crisis of Uninsurability

As climate disasters proliferate and vulnerable areas are increasingly deemed uninsurable, consumers like homeowners and small businesses are dealing with rate hikes and losses of coverage. Global climate-related economic losses surpassed $237 billion in 2023, according to a natural catastrophe report from international reinsurance company Gallagher Re, and 2023 was the sixth year in a row with more than $100 billion in annual uninsured losses. 

Domestically, property insurers are already raising rates and stopping or diminishing coverage, particularly in climate-vulnerable states like California, Florida and Louisiana. Meanwhile, these same insurance companies continue to underwrite fossil fuel projects and some have capitalized on climate risk to lobby against price-gouging protections for consumers. According to S&P Global Market Intelligence analysis published in the Wall Street Journal, 31 states approved double-digit insurance rate increases between 2022 and 2023.

Last year, the Senate Budget Committee launched an investigation of how the domestic insurance industry evaluates climate-related risks, reaching out to seven major U.S. insurers, including Chubb and AIG, for disclosures on their work with fossil fuel projects and methodologies for evaluating climate impacts. The investigation falls into the committee’s broader focus on the economic toll of climate change.

Members of the Insure Our Future campaign marched to Chubb and AIG's offices in Houston on March 4. Credit: Traverse Productions
Members of the Insure Our Future campaign marched to Chubb and AIG’s offices in Houston on March 4. Credit: Traverse Productions

“Given the threat that climate change poses to both the insurance industry and its policyholders, it is difficult to understand how the industry can carefully price and manage climate risk in some areas of its business while simultaneously having no apparent plan to phase out its underwriting of and investment in the projects and companies generating the emissions that are causing these very harms,” the committee’s letters to insurers read. “All industries and sectors in civil society have a role to play in meeting the United States’ international climate goals.”

The committee also asked firms to disclose evaluation processes for respecting free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples—a right granted through the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—in underwriting infrastructure projects. 

In a subsequent, related investigation, the committee reached out to 41 insurers—the 20 largest private sector insurance companies in California, Louisiana, Florida and Texas—to inquire how they price climate-related risk, their rate forecasts over the next five years and how they determine whether or not to pull out of a market or restrict certain coverages.

The investigations are ongoing. Meanwhile, activists are calling out the cognitive dissonance of insurance firms identifying rising climate risks and refusing to provide insurance for individuals in disaster zones, while continuing to enable the projects that are fueling the disasters. 

“They’re sacrificing the homeowners who are going to be affected by the climate crisis, and at the same time continuing to fuel it with their insuring of these projects,” Carroll said.

Insurance Can Enable or Inhibit Fossil Fuels

The Insure Our Future campaign was born in 2017 out of opposition to the Adani Carmichael coal mine in Australia—an open cut mine that produces 10 million metric tons of coal annually.

Recognizing insurance as a possible lever for stopping the project—and others like it—local and international opposition to the Carmichael mine began focusing on the insurance companies underwriting the project.

“Insurance companies have an outsized influence on climate change through their investments and their underwriting,” said Carly Fabian, an insurance policy advocate at Public Citizen. “Just like you can’t get a mortgage without insurance, you also can’t build a new fossil fuel development project.”

The insurance industry has been aware of the risks of climate change since at least 1973, when German insurer Munich Re published a warning about how global warming might increase financial risks. Still, the industry has been slow to change. 

After COP26 in 2021, 31 companies joined a Net Zero Insurance Alliance, pledging to take climate action. But last year, many U.S.-based members left the alliance, after political pressure from lawmakers, attorneys and the fossil fuel lobby. 

A report from the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries—a U.K.-based entity that regulates actuaries, who evaluate risks for insurers—and University of Exeter researchers, found that existing climate-scenario models used in financial industries are severely underestimating the risks and costs of climate change. 

But Fabian said the insurance industry seems to be thinking short term with regards to climate change, prioritizing immediate profits over the longer-term risk assessments necessary to account for climate impacts.

“It’s too easy for an executive to make a commitment to reach some goal in 2050 and then just kick the can down the road to another executive,” Fabian said. “But if they’re not making progress now, that’s going to be an increasingly difficult goal to achieve.”

The campaign to pressure the insurance industry to confront climate change has had its greatest success with the underwriting of coal projects, although it’s difficult to quantify the impact of campaigning on industry decisions. On March 4, following the week of action, the insurer Probitas 1492—a syndicate of Lloyd’s of London—confirmed it will not insure the East African Crude Oil Pipeline or the proposed West Cumbria coal mine in the U.K. But in a statement to Extinction Rebellion, Probitas 1492 Chief Executive Officer Ash Bathia said the company never intended to support either project.

“Underwriting these projects would not be in compliance with our ESG policy,” Bathia said, but he added that the decision was “a matter of company policy” and was not influenced by recent demonstrations by climate activists.

Mothers Rise Up, an organization of mothers concerned about climate change, put on a street performance on Feb. 26 outside of Lloyd's of London headquarters for Insure Our Future's week of action. Credit: Mothers Rise Up
Mothers Rise Up, an organization of mothers concerned about climate change, put on a street performance on Feb. 26 outside of Lloyd’s of London headquarters for Insure Our Future’s week of action. Credit: Mothers Rise Up

Still, in 2023, in response to an inquiry from activists and following years of pressure from Insure Our Future, Probitas announced that it had pulled out of the controversial Adani Carmichael coal mine in Australia at the end of 2022. More than 40 insurers have publicly ruled out providing any insurance for the project, responding to the campaign’s requests for commitments that they would not underwrite the project, and Probitas was one of six firms that stopped providing existing insurance.

Last year, following campaigning from Insure Our Future and other groups, Chubb became the first American insurance company to commit to significant restrictions on its underwriting of oil and gas when it announced a plan to stop insuring oil and gas extraction projects in some protected areas—including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—or those without plans to manage methane emissions. Tokio Marine and AIG have also committed not to insure drilling in the Arctic, and all three have committed to refrain from insuring new coal-fired electric generating plants or oil sands mining projects.

Still, like most insurance companies, all three have stopped short of ruling out fossil fuels overall, despite the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s assertion that meeting the goals of keeping climate change below 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius of warming precludes the development of new or expanded fossil fuel projects. According to data received from Insuramore, a firm focused on analysis of the insurance market, Chubb is still among the world’s biggest oil and gas insurers, Insure Our Future noted.

“Chubb believes that there are more effective ways to drive positive change on climate in the fossil fuel industry than a blanket ban on underwriting all fossil fuel assets,” the company wrote in a 2022 climate policy report. 

In the report, the company stated that society will rely on fossil fuels for decades to come and argued that “a blanket refusal to underwrite an entire industry sector would create perverse incentives,” and that fossil fuel industry actors could resort to other forms of risk-financing measures that don’t prioritize emissions-reduction efforts. 

Ethan Nuss, senior climate and energy campaigner at Rainforest Action Network, who has engaged directly with Chubb for the Insure Our Future campaign, said that Chubb’s argument contains multiple fallacies. 

Although fossil fuel companies can technically self insure or take advantage of mutual insurance, which is policy holder-owned, this is typically only possible for the largest, richest oil companies, Nuss said. And even with these mechanisms, if big insurers like Chubb moved away from fossil fuels, it would create a massive financial barrier for fossil fuel companies trying to build new infrastructure.

“Chubb is one of the world’s largest insurers of fossil fuels, and [Chubb] moving away from insuring fossil fuels, in an expedited way, would send huge signals for the market,” Nuss said.  

Chubb’s policy on fossil fuels is one of the most proactive in the U.S., Nuss said, but it still lags behind its international peers, particularly in Europe, where some firms have implemented stronger restrictions on oil, gas and coal. 

Fabian, at Public Citizen, said that ending the underwriting of fossil fuel development needs to be a hard line. 

“If insurers are serious about engaging with their clients to reduce emissions, they need to learn to say no, starting with any new projects that would lock in future emissions,” Fabian said. “If insurers cling to a fantasy that their fossil fuel clients will simply see the light one day, it will be ordinary policyholders left to pick up the tab through higher premiums.”

Insurance Industry Opacity

The opacity of the insurance industry, and a lack of regulation requiring transparency, makes it especially difficult for residents in the U.S. to find out which companies are insuring fossil fuel projects in their communities. To target individual insurance companies about specific projects they’re underwriting required a year of research by the Rainforest Action Network and Public Citizen.

In February, the organizations released a report on insurers underwriting LNG projects in the Gulf South that release methane, naming Chubb, AIG, Tokio Marine, Liberty Mutual, Berkshire Hathaway and Lloyd’s of London among insurers of Freeport LNG, Rio Grande LNG, Cameron LNG, Gulf LNG and others. 

Report author Mary Lovell, an energy finance campaigner at Rainforest Action Network, said she submitted more than 50 Freedom of Information Act requests to county, state, and federal agencies trying to identify which insurance agencies were underwriting active projects.

Many of their FOIA requests were left unanswered, Lovell said. Other agencies they contacted, including the Louisiana Department of Insurance, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy, responded that they did not have the requested information.

“Basically, we don’t know who’s insuring the vast majority of oil and gas construction.”

The Texas Railroad Commission says on its website that companies must file certificates of insurance with their office, but when Lovell’s colleague sent a FOIA request to the commission asking for specific certificates, they responded that they didn’t have them.

“My major finding through that course of research was that no one is regulating the insurance for these projects,” Lovell said. “Or if they are regulating it, they’re doing so secretly and not providing information.”

Lovell said the process of obtaining insurance information in Texas and Louisiana was particularly difficult, compared to in her home state of Washington. 

“In Texas and Louisiana, it felt like I kept sending Freedom of Information Act requests into the void,” Lovell said. “The combination of understaffing and lack of regulation and the relationships with the oil and gas industry just means that people are far less transparent.”

Lovell and others opposing the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a West Virginia project that’s received heavy opposition for nearly a decade, have spent over a year submitting FOIA requests, but they still haven’t found out who is insuring the pipeline.

“Basically, we don’t know who’s insuring the vast majority of oil and gas construction,” Lovell said.

The lack of public information around insurance policies not only makes it hard for campaigns to target insurers, but also makes it more difficult for taxpayers to understand what costs they’ll end up covering in the event of an oil spill or an explosion, like the Freeport LNG explosion in 2022.

Although insurance policies are meant to cover the cleanup costs, if insurance isn’t sufficient, fossil fuel companies may not immediately fill the gap, leading to high costs for taxpayers, including for litigation between various levels of government and private corporations, which often have deep pockets for lawyers, Lovell said.  

“To me, the reason for lack of transparency goes back to the oil and gas industry, and relationships between the government and the gas industry,” Lovell said. “When you have these governments that are really in bed with oil and gas, they are a lot more likely to consider the insurance information to be a trade secret.”

Fighting the Underwriting of a Controversial African Project

In addition to pressing insurers to drop domestic LNG projects, the campaigners in New York City joined activists around the world opposing the East African Crude Oil Pipeline, a 1,443 kilometer (897 mile) pipeline under construction in Uganda and Tanzania, funded mostly by the French multinational TotalEnergies, which is a 62 percent stakeholder. According to the Climate Accountability Institute, a nonprofit research organization, the project will release 379 metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is more than 25 times the combined annual emissions of its two host nations.

Throughout the week in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, activists opposing EACOP organized actions targeting insurance, including a Twitter storm, a training on fossil fuel insurance and multiple demonstrations. Local opposition to EACOP remains strong despite challenges: Activists opposing EACOP have been arrested and detained and have faced harassment, threats and repression from law enforcement.

Insure Our Future campaigners in Kampala, Uganda worked on banners focused on ending insurance underwriting of fossil fuels. Credit: Mulasa Peter
Insure Our Future campaigners in Kampala, Uganda worked on banners focused on ending insurance underwriting of fossil fuels. Credit: Mulasa Peter

EACOP has also garnered fierce opposition internationally, including criticism from Human Rights Watch, which projects that the pipeline will displace more than 100,000 people, decimate local communities and wildlife, and contribute to climate impacts already disproportionately borne by Africa despite the continent’s historically low emissions.

Grassroots pressure on the financing and insurance of EACOP seems to be having tangible success: Insure Our Future has asked for public commitments from 35 companies not to back the pipeline and has received 28 affirmative responses, with multiple companies explicitly citing climate or ESG goals as their reason for not insuring the project. Lloyd’s of London, Liberty Mutual, Chubb, AIG, Tokio Marine, Brit and Chaucer have thus far failed to make such commitments.

Construction on the pipeline has reportedly faced numerous delays due to financing and insurance hurdles as more global banks and insurers pull out of the project and its financial viability comes into question. 

In a written response, TotalEnergies said the company is committed to improving local living conditions, economic opportunities and biodiversity, and disputed the Human Rights Watch estimation that 100,000 people would be displaced by the project, claiming that only 5,000 people will be “rehoused” and saying that the majority of the 100,000 referred to people who will be able to use their land again after construction is completed. TotalEnergies also denied that people were given “notice to vacate” before compensation.

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Hilda Flavia Nakabuye, of Fridays for Future Uganda, grew up on a farm near Lake Victoria, close to the route of EACOP. Nakabuye, who is now based in Kampala and helped organize the week of action there, said that over the past decade she has seen firsthand how members of nearby communities were displaced, solicited by the pipeline company to give up their land for delayed or absent payments. Nakabuye said that given the region’s reliance on agriculture, many people can’t afford to lose their land even temporarily, with hardships exacerbated by the already acute impacts of climate change, including flash floods, intense rainfall and deadly landslides, as well as extreme heat, drought and increasingly unpredictable seasons.

Nakabuye, who has been a vocal public advocate against EACOP, said her grandmother had to sell off their farmland about 13 years ago, when it was devastated by strong winds and heavy rains. 

“Farming is our backbone. We are an agricultural economy,” Nakabuye said. “If we can’t predict seasons, then that means we can’t grow any food.”

Nakabuye said that the insurance campaign is part of a multi-pronged approach to cutting off EACOP’s financial viability—the Stop EACOP movement is also targeting permitting and financing. Opposition to the pipeline has caused the project continued financial and legal difficulties—large international banks like Citi, HSBC, and JP Morgan Chase have also publicly committed not to lend to the project.

“The insurance companies right now can decide which future we have as humanity, whether to lead us to extinction or to save us,” Nakabuye said. “We want people to understand this, and to also understand that they have influence over insurance companies and that they can play a role in putting pressure, or influencing insurance companies to make the right decision for their communities.”

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