Equilibrium & Sustainability

20 percent of US insurance board members tied to fossil fuels

Twenty percent of U.S. insurance company board members have ties to the fossil fuel industry, according to a report released Thursday by DeSmog, a global consortium of investigative journalists focused on climate change.

The report also found that about two-thirds of board members — who oversee and set priorities for their companies — are what DeSmog calls “climate conflicted,” with ties to high-carbon industries like shipping, mining and steel production.

One particular outlier is Boston-based Liberty Mutual: its director is a board member at oil major Exxon Mobil, and six of its directors hold roles in fossil fuel extraction or utility companies, the report found.

In a statement to The Hill, Liberty Mutual said: “We recognize the risk of climate change to our planet and environmental sustainability has been a key focus for us for some time.”

The report’s release comes against the backdrop of a growing unease around new fossil fuel development. In May, the International Energy Agency — originally founded to ensure the smooth and reliable flow of oil — called for an urgent halt on new coal, oil and gas development as being necessary to keep the world beneath the red line of a 1.5 degrees Celsius increase in global temperatures, seen as the threshold of serious climate instability.

Meanwhile the insurance industry — a group whose active involvement in underwriting is necessary for any new development, fossil fuel or otherwise — has continued to insure new fossil fuel developments, even though many of it’s largest companies have endorsed that 1.5 Celsius goal and the 2015 Paris climate agreement that established it.

While 30 companies have signed on to a movement to stop underwriting new coal plants, many companies still back that dirtiest and most carbon-intensive of fuels. And virtually all insurance companies still insure gas and oil — even, in most cases, the particularly carbon-polluting heavy crude of the Canadian tar sands.

All insurance boards examined had “ties to polluting industries” and a quarter had ties to coal, the report found.

“The fact that 20% of US insurance directors are tied to the fossil fuel industry, and the majority have ties to the industries destroying our planet, undoubtedly plays a major role in their inaction on climate change,” said Ross Hammond, U.S. director of Insure Our Future, a joint campaign of environmental and consumer protection organizations dedicated to “holding the U.S. insurance industry accountable for its role in the climate crisis,” according to the organization’s website. 

Updated at 4:18 p.m.

Tags Climate change Conflict of interest

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