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Dirty business? QBE takes heat over coal ties

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QBE is facing pressure from environmentalists after an annual scorecard ranked the insurer among the worst when it comes to moving away from insuring or investing in coal-related businesses.

Unlike European insurers, QBE and its peers in the US and Japan have been pinged by the Greenpeace-backed Unfriend Coal campaign for continuing to support an industry that climate scientists say is a major culprit in rising global carbon emissions.

QBE, Australia’s only global insurer, scored zero in terms of withdrawing coverage for and divesting from coal.

European insurers generally fared better in the study of 24 insurers, led by Swiss Re because its underwriting restrictions and divestment policies extend to tar sands and other extreme fossil fuels.

But QBE has been swift to point out that it’s focusing on the issue and is finalising a detailed review of its investment portfolio.

A spokesman told insuranceNEWS.com today the insurer will reassess its underwriting strategy next year in line with a detailed analysis of climate-related risks and opportunities.

“However, our exposure to coal through our investment portfolio is already very low,” the spokesman said.

“Climate change is a significant risk for the industry, and QBE is acting to address climate-related risks and opportunities for our business.

“We have publicly endorsed the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TFCD), which establish a strong and consistent framework for improving climate-related risk management and disclosure.

“[This year], we published an action plan in our half-year report that describes how we will implement the TCFD recommendations.”

Environmental activist group Market Forces, a member of the Unfriend Coal alliance, alleged QBE has been slow to act on the issue.

“QBE needs to stand up for its customers and shareholders and break its ties to dirty fossil fuels,” Insurance Campaigner Pablo Brait told insuranceNEWS.com.au.

“The scorecard shows it has no restrictions at all on investing in and insuring coal and tar sands. So far the European insurers have shown more responsibility and more vision on climate action. QBE and other Australian insurers are lagging behind.”

Unfriend Coal says insurers that “continue to support the coal sector” are placing themselves in a position that is “incompatible with the industry’s public positions on climate change, and with its fundamental mission to protect its customers from catastrophic adverse impacts”.