Green Century Capital Management tried to use shareholder muscle to persuade a trio of insurance giants to drop fossil-fuel clients.
So far, the insurance firms aren’t biting; all three have filed no-action requests with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The resolutions, in advance of proxy season this spring, call on Chubb
and The Hartford
to take this bold step as private-sector efforts to curb global warming from the burning of coal, oil
pick up, alongside global government action.
The insurance resolutions represent the first time that shareholders have laid down this sizable challenge to this industry for what the activists say are its contributions to the climate crisis.
Companies are facing climate-change quandaries increasingly at the behest of institutional investors, such as activist asset managers, hedge funds and pension funds, and by advocacy groups speaking on behalf of smaller shareholders.
More than nine shareholder campaigns based on environmental or social issues are currently underway, impacting companies such as Unilever PlcUL and Costco WholesaleCOST, according to Bloomberg Intelligence, which said the pressure has heated up from last year. Green Century has a $5.9 million stake in Costco, as of January.
The resolutions call on each company’s board of directors to “adopt and disclose new policies to help ensure that its underwriting practices do not support new fossil fuel supplies, in alignment with the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s net-zero emissions by 2050 scenario.”
The IEA has concluded that there is no room for any fossil fuel expansion if warming targets are to be met, and climate catastrophe avoided.
“Investors are demanding that insurance companies stop supporting the rampant expansion of fossil fuels that is driving the climate crisis,” said Elana Sulakshana, senior energy campaigner at Rainforest Action Network, an environmental advocate that tracks financial services relationships with companies it believes hurt the Amazon rain forest and other areas.
“But instead of taking concrete action to limit fossil fuel insuring and investing, Chubb, Travelers and The Hartford are trying to silence their shareholders and continue business as usual,” she said.
Green Century, which has about $1 billion under management, is a left-leaning investment firm championing environmental and other causes, according to InfluenceWatch.org. Green Century is owned by Paradigm Partners, a for-profit holding company investment advisory service firm founded by Public Interest Network president Doug Phelps.
In its no-action request, Chubb, for one, pointed to its policy restricting insurance for new coal projects. Chubb, meanwhile, is backing expansion of offshore oil drilling in Brazil, Green Century said in its resolution.
Chubb has also said it will not make new debt or equity investments in companies that generate more than 30% of revenues from thermal coal mining or that generate more than 30% of energy production from coal.
The insurer also says the energy landscape will be changing, saying it “expects a transition over time to greater reliance on alternative and renewable fuel solutions to meet energy needs.”
Travelers and The Hartford have coal and tar sands exclusion policies, but also remain among the world’s top fossil fuel insurers, the resolution asserts.
Chubb’s share price is up 23% over the past year, while The Hartford is up 42% and Travelers up 16%.
Investor attention to the role of insurers in climate change has increased significantly in recent years, in part due to rising insured costs related to natural disasters worsened by climate-change effects. For instance, the U.K.’s largest asset manager, Legal & General, divested from AIG in June 2021, citing the insurer’s coal underwriting.
Natural disasters cost insurers $105 billion in 2021, the fourth highest loss since 1970.
Chubb and Travelers have also challenged resolutions filed by the shareholder advocacy firm As You Sow that requested a plan for emissions reductions in line with a net-zero pathway.
Financial services more broadly are under the watchful eye of environmental groups.
earlier this year said it aims for an “absolute reduction” in emissions from companies across its energy loan portfolio of 29% by 2030. It was a big move in the banking space. Citi did stress that dropping oil and gas clients if they are deemed to fall short of such targets would only be a last resort, however.
But boardroom advocacy on climate change stretches beyond financial services.
Green Century and As You Sow claim their shareholder proposal was also behind a recent move at Coca-Cola
to reuse more plastic. Coke said earlier this month it will sell 25% of its beverages in refillables by 2030, up from a current 16%, a move that As You Sow called “industry-leading.”
And last year, hedge fund Engine No. 1 scored a coup in winning three climate-focused, independent seats on oil giant ExxonMobil’sXOM board.