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New report reveals how major insurers haven't kept their promises to customers: 'Regulators need to step up'

"Insurance companies are sort of gatekeepers."

“Insurance companies are sort of gatekeepers."

Photo Credit: iStock

The world's rising temperature has caused a major uptick in dangerous, destructive weather events

Some industries, like oil and coal production, have played a clear role by creating the air pollution that's warming up the planet. 

However, a new report from nonprofit Public Citizen and global coalition Insure Our Future revealed another culprit: the insurance industry, Grist reported.

What's happening?

In recent years, as the public has become more concerned about the world heating up, there has been pressure on large companies to be more eco-friendly. Many, like Google, Amazon, HSBC, have made climate pledges, promising to reduce their pollution or make up for it with programs that benefit the Earth.

According to Grist, insurers have been among the companies promising change. Some have promised to achieve "net-zero emissions," meaning that they'll cancel out any carbon pollution they produce with activities that remove carbon from the atmosphere, like planting trees. Others have promised to stop insuring coal mining projects, since coal is a major source of heat-trapping pollution.

Yet, as this new report made clear, the insurance industry hasn't backed out of supporting coal. Sometimes, companies exploit loopholes in their climate pledges, insuring the subsidiaries of coal producers instead of the parent companies. In other cases, they simply break their own rules.

Why does it matter if insurers cover coal mining?

According to the International Energy Agency, coal was responsible for pumping over 16.9 billion tons of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere in 2021, contributing to a record high for energy-related carbon air pollution. Coal is one of the major factors making the world hotter.

Coal mines can't operate without insurance. As Carly Fabian, a Public Citizen insurance policy advocate who participated in the coal report, explained to Grist, insurance is necessary for these projects to secure funding. 

"Insurance companies are sort of gatekeepers — they provide a lifeline to the fuel industry," she said.

In other words, if insurers just stopped supporting coal as they promised, they could slam on the brakes of this majorly polluting industry.

Instead, these same insurers have been pulling back from ordinary citizens — the people most impacted by the pollution they're enabling. Homeowners in Florida and California are seeing policy prices rise due to recent disasters, and many insurers are leaving these states altogether.

What can be done about insurance companies' harmful policies?

Mary Sweeters, co-author of the report, concluded that companies' climate commitments weren't enough to end the pollution and cool down the planet, Grist reported

Instead, she said, "Regulators need to step up and recognize the role that insurance companies are playing in continuing to enable the expansion of fossil fuels and driving climate change."

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