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How the insurance industry could bring down fossil fuels (a podcast with Tom Johansmeyer)

Published on 06 September 2021

Welcome to Insurance Covered. In this episode we discuss the relationship between fossil fuels and insurance. Our guest is Tom Johansmeyer, Head of Property Claims Services at Verisk insurance solutions. Tom recently had an article published in the Harvard Business Review 'How the insurance industry could bring down fossil fuels' which is what we will be focusing on today.

First, we take a closer look at the article Tom wrote on the topic of ESG, fossil fuels and the role insurance can play in reducing the use of fossil fuels. The article focuses on the recent Lloyd's decision to phase out insurance for most fossil fuels by 2030. "I wanted to take a look at was the business side of that decision.  Because, having looked at ESG issues in various forms over the past 15 years of my career, I've always struggled with this notion of will companies do the right thing because it's right or is there a business incentive to do so".

As part of the research behind the article Tom looked at historical marine and energy losses and historical global large risk losses to see which of these are from companies directly involved in the fossil fuel business and what portion of a loss do they make up. They found that around two thirds of the losses in that segment are from companies directly involved in the fossil fuel business. This goes some way to explain why Lloyd's have made the decision they have, from a purely business orientated perspective before even considering ESG pressures.   

Investors want companies to be more ESG positive but at the same time they also want it to be value accretive.  The challenge is finding a way to pivot away from the fossil fuel business into another profitable market, renewables being the clear choice. "So, the challenge now is finding ways to engage insurance capital to support renewables given the transition from a difficult loss history to potentially more profitable business given the new technology that is being deployed."

We then look at where the pressure to move away from unsustainable energy risks has come from. Tom explains that here has been a recent surge in importance in ESG issues, but this has been building for over a decade. This pressure to be ESG conscious is coming from investors but also regulators.

Finally, we discuss what insurers can and are going to do to remove themselves from the fossil fuel industry in order to achieve the 2030 target set by Lloyds. "It's going to be a decades-long process, because there cannot be a wholesale withdrawal, partly because some of these policies are long-term policies. There are a number of commitments that are being signed up 'the net zero insurance alliance' and the UN's principles for sustainable insurance". If insurers begin to start focusing on getting ESG favourable contingent capital, from reinsurers and IOS funds as well as making the ESG pledges and shifting away from unsustainable business lines we should begin to see ESG favourable strategies falling into place.

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