Sustainable insurance in a time of planetary crisis

Let me begin by congratulating you on ten years of the Principles for Sustainable Insurance Initiative, or PSI. This, the largest collaboration between the United Nations and the insurance industry, is incredibly important.

The insurance industry serves as society’s early warning system and risk manager by understanding, reducing, pricing and carrying risk. And the insurance industry and the wider financial sector have the power and responsibility to drive progress towards a net-zero economy and a sustainable future.

Over the last ten years, we have seen real progress in the industry. Through the PSI, we now have best practice frameworks and guidance designed to embed sustainability in the heart of the insurance business and achieve real-world impact. Recognizing the key role of insurance regulators and supervisors, the PSI also helped establish the Sustainable Insurance Forum in 2016. There is no excuse for any insurer not to have a sustainability strategy for its core business.

More recently, an initial group of major insurers embedded net-zero ambitions either in their core insurance business or in their investments – or both. Some major insurers have made promises and commitments that, if delivered, can make a real difference. Today, the PSI encompasses over 220 organizations, including insurers representing one-third of the world’s premium and $ 15 trillion in assets under management. We now have a global community of practice that can drive systemic change.

For all of this, and so much more, I thank you.

But now I am going to tell you what I told my own organization and member states at the UNEP @ 50 commemoration in March. I am going to tell you what I told world leaders at Stockholm + 50 in June. I am going to tell you what I will tell anybody marking a milestone in environmental action: you have not done enough. None of us have.

This is not my opinion. It is a statement of fact. A statement of fact borne out by what science tells us about the accelerating triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tell us global warming is causing dangerous disruption to the natural world, human wellbeing and economic prosperity. Deaths and damage from floods, droughts and storms are on the rise.

All of this is coming at 1.1 ° C from global warming. And there is a 50/50 chance we will hit 1.5 ° C, at least temporarily, in the next five years. The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction recently predicted that one large-scale disaster will occur every day by 2030. The risks posed by global heating are clearly escalating. And yet efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions are still way off track.

Is this sustainable?

The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services tells us that nature is in rapid decline, gnawing at the foundations of human health and prosperity. Up to 40 per cent of land is degraded. This degradation affects almost half of the world’s citizens and makes it increasingly difficult to feed everyone. One million species face extinction. Primary tropical forests were destroyed in 2021 at the rate of ten football fields every minute.

Is this sustainable?

Pollution and waste are killing tens of millions of people each year. One in six deaths stem from pollution – from dirty air to toxic chemicals. Despite growing momentum on plastic pollution, 11 million tonnes of plastic waste are still tumbling into our oceans each year. Antimicrobial resistance is on the rise.

Is this sustainable?

These three crises add up to a single planetary emergency, driven by the unsustainable way we produce goods and consume resources. A crisis that, if left unchecked, will ravage our health, our societies, our businesses and our economies.

Is this sustainable?

The answer is no.

Anxious youth, the people who will be your customers for decades to come, are tired of our promises. Vulnerable communities are least responsible for the damage to our planet are tired of our promises. Frankly, I think we are tired of our own promises.

It is time to act. Time to end our addiction to fossil fuels. Restore nature to its full glory. Make production and consumption sustainable. Transform our food systems. Make our cities green, liveable, low carbon and disaster resilient. And retool the global financial system, including the insurance industry, to back a healthy planet and healthy people.

Friends,

You cannot do all of this on your own. But what you can do is implement ambitious actions in your risk management, insurance and investment activities to help achieve the 2030 goal of halving greenhouse gas emissions. The 2030 goal of reversing nature loss. The 2030 goal of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

So, yes, we are here today to celebrate what you have done – and you have done a lot. But we are also here to lay out how to build on your achievements to get the job done. To this end, I come here with six key asks.

One, commit to the net-zero transition

Insurers should set and implement science-based net-zero strategies and targets for their insurance and investment portfolios by joining the Net-Zero Insurance Alliance (NZIA) and the Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance.

The NZIA’s work with the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials to produce the first global standard to measure greenhouse gas emissions associated with insurance underwriting portfolios by November 2022 is a good starting point.

The NZIA’s work with the Science Based Targets Initiative to develop an NZIA target-setting protocol by January 2023 is another important step. This protocol will be used by NZIA member insurers to set interim, science-based five-year targets for their respective insurance underwriting portfolios, starting July 2023.

Two, commit to a nature-positive transition and pollution prevention

Insurers should build on the PSI’s agenda-setting work to protect natural World Heritage Sites, tackle plastic pollution, and combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Insurers should commit to science-based nature-positive strategies and targets for their insurance and investment portfolios. The PSI should establish a Nature-Positive Insurance Alliance – just like the Net-Zero Insurance Alliance that it established in 2021 – particularly given the expected adoption of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework later this year.

Insurers should also support the aims of the upcoming legally binding international agreement to end plastic pollution, which will be forged by 2024.

Three, commit to climate resilience and adaptation

Protecting the most vulnerable and leaving no behind is indispensable in a just transition to net zero. Tackling loss and damage and building resilience must not be the forgotten component of climate action. Reducing disaster risk and closing the insurance protection gap are paramount.

Insurers should commit to supporting the Sustainable Insurance Facility of the Vulnerable Twenty Group of Finance Ministers, hosted by the PSI. This facility aims to deliver insurance protection to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in the most climate-vulnerable countries in Africa and the Middle East, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean.

Four, life and health insurers must commit to sustainability.

Health is our greatest wealth. Life and health insurers must embed sustainability in their core insurance business, not just in their investments, particularly in a post-COVID world increasingly affected by climate change, nature loss, pollution and social inequality.

Insurers should adopt and build on the recommendations of the first-ever sustainability guide for the global life and health insurance industry, which the PSI is launching at this 10th anniversary event.

Five, commit to accountability, transparency and sustainability expertise.

The entire insurance industry value chain of insurers, reinsurers, brokers and agents ─ along with insurance associations and insurance regulators ─ must make sustainability an integral part of their decision-making.

Insurers should implement the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, the Task Force on Nature-related Financial Disclosures, and the International Sustainability Standards Board – all important steps to drive systemic change.

Furthermore, all insurance professionals should develop expertise in sustainability, instead of leaving it up to a few people within an organization. Sustainability should be an integral part of an insurance organization’s culture, principles, values ​​and core business strategies and operations. In short, it should form part of every insurance decision.

Six, create sustainable insurance roadmaps

Insurance markets around the world should follow the lead of the California Insurance Commissioner to develop the world’s first sustainable insurance roadmap, an initiative supported by the PSI. California’s Sustainable Insurance Roadmap will be presented at this PSI event.

A sustainable insurance roadmap is a comprehensive strategy and action plan to harness the insurance industry’s risk management services, insurance solutions and investments to accelerate the transition to resilient, net-zero, nature-positive and inclusive communities and economies. Such roadmaps would serve as foundational frameworks for insurance markets to support the global agenda of the UN Decade of Action.

Friends,

I do not wish to diminish your achievements or single out the insurance industry and the wider financial sector as laggards. Again, my thanks for everything you have done over the last ten years. But as I said, none of us have done enough.

Look, people in general are not very good at looking forward. Most of us make short-term decisions based on getting through the next days, weeks or months. But you, in the insurance industry, are not like people now. It is your job to look into the future, to understand, reduce, price and carry risk. Managing risk is your core business.

I ask you now to look into the future and tell yourself what you see – what the future looks like for the planet, your business models, and every person you care about who will live beyond the next few years.

And then ask yourself what you are going to do about it.

Thank you.

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