Zurich Insurance: From pioneer to laggard

Zurich was one of the first insurers to exclude coal from its business. But now it is struggling to take the same step with oil and gas. In doing so, it is lagging behind its European competitors and contradicting its commitment to a credible 1.5°C pathway and the Paris Climate Agreement.

Zurich Insurance already committed in 2015 to bringing its business in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. In 2017, it became the second insurer after AXA to introduce exclusion criteria for coal industry insurance. 

 

However, it has since lost this leading role. In the oil and gas sector, it is not a pioneer but brings up the rear. It is particularly serious that it still insures the expansion of oil and gas production almost without restriction.

 

This is at odds with climate science: Both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) clearly state that fossil energy production must not be expanded any further. Insurance has a central role in this: without insurance, no new oil well, pipeline or refinery can be built and operated.

 

A Campax-Activist distributing flyers in front of a Zurich agency.

Grade: insufficient

Zurich’s oil and gas policies are so weak that they receive a score of 1.4 out of 10 from the Insurance Scorecard report. In addition, they ranked a very poor 10th out of 12 policies examined by European insurers. 

 

Zurich’s refusal has serious consequences for the climate: The company is one of the largest insurers of oil and gas and thus significantly supports the further expansion of fossil energy production. According to data from „Insureamore,“ commissioned by the Insure Our Future campaign, they are the world’s No. 9 insurer in this business.

 

Moreover, both emissions reduction and commitment are not substitutes for exclusion criteria that ensure, as a minimum requirement, that the expansion of fossil energy production is not supported.

Zurich's policies in detail

Zurich does not insure coal, oil sands, oil shale and Arctic oil and gas. It has also announced that it will phase out of coal and will no longer insure greenfield oil exploration projects (the term greenfield is used in the industry to refer to undeveloped oil fields). However, it does allow exceptions to the latter two criteria.

 

In detail: 

Zurich will not underwrite or invest in companies that:

  • generate more than 30% of their revenue from mining thermal coal, or produce more than 20 million tons of thermal coal per year;
  • generate more than 30% of their electricity from coal;
  • are in the process of developing any new coal mining or coal power infrastructure;
  • generate at least 30% of their revenue directly from the extraction of oil from oil sands;
  • are purpose-built (or “dedicated”) transportation infrastructure operators for thermal coal or oil sands products, including pipelines and railway transportation;
  • generate more than 30% of their revenue from mining oil shale, or generate more than 30% of their electricity from oil shale.

 

Specifically for insurance, Zurich also excludes the following from its underwriting activities:

  • New greenfield oil exploration projects (unless meaningful transition plans are in place);
  • Oil and gas drilling and production in the Arctic (considered as anything north of 66 degrees latitude with the exception of the Norwegian Continental Shelf).  

 

See https://www.zurich.com/sustainability/strategy-and-governance/sustainability-risk