Activists ramp up pressure on insurers after Swiss company ditches climate-wrecking Trans Mountain Pipeline

  • Published on July 23rd, 2020

Climate campaigners and Indigenous activists celebrated after reporting from Reuters revealed on Wednesday that the Swiss insurance giant Zurich will soon stop providing coverage to the Canadian government-owned Trans Mountain Pipeline, increasing the pressure on other insurers to also ditch the existing tar sands pipeline and long-delayed expansion project.

Activists with Insure Our Future gathered outside Liberty Mutual's Boston and Seattle offices in December 2019 to demand the insure company "take bold action in the face of the climate emergency and stop insuring fossil fuels." (Photo: Insure Our Future/Twitter)
Activists with Insure Our Future gathered outside Liberty Mutual’s Boston and Seattle offices in December 2019 to demand the insure company “take bold action in the face of the climate emergency and stop insuring fossil fuels.” (Photo: Insure Our Future/Twitter)

By Jessica Corbett
Common Dreams

“Zurich has done the right thing by refusing to insure the Trans Mountain Pipeline any longer. Hopefully Liberty Mutual and the other companies insuring it do the right thing before the end of August and drop it too,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, said in a statement Thursday.

“Any company insuring Trans Mountain is complicit in violations of Indigenous rights,” he explained, “because the proposed pipeline expansion does not have the consent of all impacted First Nations along the route.”

“Zurich’s decision to drop Trans Mountain demonstrates that it’s waking up the risks of this toxic project to Indigenous land rights, local ecosystems, and the planet,” said Elana Sulakshana, energy finance campaigner at Rainforest Action Network (RAN).

The decades-old pipeline has a long history of spills—including one at a pump station in British Columbia last month—and Indigenous groups and climate campaigners have spent years in court fighting against the expansion project known as TMX.

“Some of Zuirch’s peers in the global insurance industry are also taking note, as eight companies now have policies that limit or end insurance coverage for tar sands,” said Sulakshana. “It’s way past time for Liberty Mutual and Chubb to follow suit.”

Liberty Mutual is a top target of the Stop the Money Pipeline campaign, which was launched in January by a coalition of climate, youth, and Indigenous groups to pressure banks, insurers, and asset managers to “stop financing fossil fuels and deforestation and start respecting human rights and Indigenous sovereignty.”

As Sulakshana explained in an op-ed for Common Dreams earlier this month, Trans Mountain’s insurance policy is up at the end of August, so environmental advocacy groups, First Nations, and insurance campaigners have been calling on the 11 insurers that currently cover Trans Mountain to:

  • Publicly commit to not renew their insurance policy for Trans Mountain for 2020-21;
  • Moving forward, rule out insurance for all tar sands extraction and transport projects and companies;
  • Adopt a policy to ensure that projects and companies they insure have obtained the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent of impacted communities.

The insurers for the pipeline that she listed are Zurich (Switzerland); Lloyd’s (U.K.), Liberty Mutual (U.S.); Chubb (U.S.); AIG (U.S.), WR Berkley (U.S.); Starr (U.S.), Stewart Specialty Risk Underwriting (Canada); Energy Insurance Mutual (U.S.); Temple Insurance (Germany), a Canadian member of the Munich Re group; and HDI (Germany), which is owned by Talanx/Hannover Re.

“In late June, Talanx indicated that it already dropped the pipeline, and Munich Re signaled that it will not renew its policy,” Sulakshana noted.

Reuters reported Wednesday that “Munich Re said it would review the contract given its new underwriting guideline on oil sands.”

While a spokesperson for Zurich declined to comment on the Reuters report, a Trans Mountain spokesperson told the news agency that the Swiss insurer has decided not to renew its policy. According to Reuters:

The Trans Mountain Pipeline’s annual liability insurance contract, dated August 2019 but filed with the Canada Energy Regulator on April 30, 2020, had shown Zurich was the lead insurer for the pipeline.

The insurance, which provides $508 million of cover, runs to August 2020, the filing showed.

Zurich was the sole insurer for the first $8 million of potential insurance payouts and the company provided a total of $300 million in cover with other insurers, the 2019-20 energy regulatory filing showed.

Despite Zurich’s decision, the Trans Mountain spokesperson said that “there remains adequate capacity in the market to meet Trans Mountain’s insurance needs and our renewal.” Given that other insurers still plan to provide coverage, campaigners are maintaining pressure on both companies and the Canadian government to reconsider enabling the pipeline to continue operating and expanding.

“Insurers should protect us from risk, not accelerate climate change,” Ross Hammond of the Sunrise Project and Insure Our Future wrote in a tweet welcoming the Swiss company’s move.

“The Trans Mountain Pipeline puts communities, the climate, and billions of dollars in Canadian taxpayers’ money at risk,” said Sven Biggs, Canadian Oil and Gas Program director at Stand.earth. “Zurich’s decision to walk away from the pipeline just underlines how risky this project has become.”

Biggs added that “it’s time for the Trudeau government to take another look at this project, and ask if this is the right time to spend over $10 billion on a pipeline that is rapidly losing the support of the financial sector.”

The Canadian arm of 350.org, in a tweet Wednesday, put the insurer’s renewal decision in the context of not only the climate emergency but also the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and campaigners’ calls for a just recovery from the public health crisis.

Nearly 200 groups in Canada including 350.org unveiled their demands for a just recovery in late May, arguing that “recovery efforts must not take us backward; they must accelerate the transition towards a more healthy, sustainable, and equitable society.”

About the Author

Jessica Corbett is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

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