Insurers retreat under anti-ESG fire
THE WEEK THAT WAS
INSURERS ON DEFENSE — Foreign-based insurers are getting a taste of the anti-ESG medicine that Republican policymakers have been serving to U.S. financial firms, and they’re clearly not enjoying it.
European insurers are pulling out of the UN-convened Net-Zero Insurance Alliance over concerns that red states’ antitrust allegations could hurt their businesses. Bloomberg reported Wednesday that the group was holding a meeting to discuss recent departures, a week after 23 Republican attorneys general sent letters to members of the group raising antitrust concerns.
The UN is pushing back: “Regardless of the situation, UNEP reaffirms its conviction ever since it initiated, convened, and launched the NZIA — that in order to successfully tackle the climate emergency, there is a fundamental and urgent need for collaboration, not just individual action,” the UN Environment Programme said Wednesday.
And regardless of the legal merits of the antitrust argument, it makes sense that insurers would be spooked in the same vein as Vanguard, which pulled out of the Net Zero Asset Managers initiative last year in the wake of similar threats. They may be worried about jeopardizing their business in the U.S., one lawyer said.
“There’s a new cost to these initiatives that I think people are now starting to factor in and wonder if they are worthwhile,” said Lance Dial, a partner with K&L Gates’ asset management and investment funds practice. “There was a thinking three years ago that this was a great Good Housekeeping seal of approval…. But now there’s a downside that’s become very apparent with the U.S. state actions.”
Meanwhile, the medicine continues being spooned out in Texas, as Jordan reports. The state Legislature sent Gov. Greg Abbott (R) a bill this week that would bar insurers in the state from considering environmental, social and governance factors in setting rates.
It’d be the first anti-ESG bill to go after the insurance industry. Environmentalists aren’t sure how it would actually work, but the intent is clear.
“It’s very difficult to evaluate what this law would actually do because it appears to ban a practice that insurance companies aren’t actually undertaking,” said Jordan Haedtler, a consultant with the Sunrise Project. “That said, I don’t want to suggest that the bill has no impact whatsoever, because I do think it is still sending a clear signal to insurance companies that they should ignore risk factors that are material to their business.”
DOE DISCONNECTS — The Energy Department this week pulled out of an electronics industry group that sets sustainability standards for cell phones, Jordan reports.
DOE said the group was dragging its feet on updating its standards, which haven’t changed since 2017. Sandra Cannon, a sustainable procurement staffer at the agency, withdrew in a remarkably plain-spoken email:
“We presently have mobile phones being registered to a standard that is 5 years old,” she wrote to Underwriters Laboratories, the company that owns the standard. “That is not sufficient to keep up with the speed of the mobile phone industry or purchaser needs for products that meet relevant sustainability and climate change mitigation goals.”
A right-to-repair advocate also dropped out on Tuesday. EPA is still in the group and said it doesn’t plan to leave “at this time.”
MANAGING EXPECTATIONS — BlackRock investors are pushing back against the idea that the $9 trillion asset management firm should take an active role in decarbonizing “the real economy,” Ben Lefebvre reports.
At the company’s annual meeting on Wednesday, shareholders owning about 90 percent of its stock voted against a resolution that would have had the world’s largest asset manager compile a report “specifying whether and how BlackRock could improve its pension fund clients’ investment returns, by focusing its climate-related investment stewardship and proxy voting to ‘engineer decarbonization in the real economy.’”
CEO Larry Fink, in explaining management’s opposition to the idea, said it was BlackRock’s job to serve clients and not push for one particular strategy: “Our role is not to engineer real-world decarbonization,” Fink said at the event. “Our job is to help each and every client navigate investment, risks and opportunities associated with a [energy] transition.”
AROUND THE NATION
OIL OFFSETS — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) signed a bill Tuesday that authorizes state land to be used for carbon offset credits. Dunleavy’s administration previously told us that he was motivated by interest from in-state oil and gas giants looking to offset their emissions.
One interesting thing about this law: A lot of environmental groups didn’t want to talk about it! The Nature Conservancy didn’t respond to a request for comment. Neither did the Sierra Club. Earthjustice, Earthworks and Alaska Wild also didn’t care to weigh in.
But Freya Chay, program manager at CarbonPlan, a nonprofit that analyzes different climate solutions, wrote that the program “could produce carbon credits that don’t represent real climate benefits.”
Further south, legislation in California that would compel the nation’s two largest pension funds to divest from fossil fuels by 2031 passed the Senate 22-10 in a floor vote on Thursday. The bill now advances to the Assembly, where it failed to pass last year.
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