April 29, 2021 (Queensland, Australia) – Insurance giant Liberty Mutual has indicated that it will not move forward with a massive proposed new coal mine today, after facing a sustained, years-long campaign against the project from local communities in Central Queensland, Australia and pressure from the US-based Liberty’s Climate Crisis coalition.
The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Baralaba South mine was due on April 30, and Liberty Mutual has confirmed that it is not filing the statement. Failing to submit the EIS effectively ends prospects of the coal mine being developed, due to the project application process lapsing and new laws that would now apply concerning mine rehabilitation. Liberty is the sole owner of this proposed mine, which would have catastrophic impacts on the rights of the Woorabinda Aboriginal community, local agricultural land and ecosystems (including nearby emu habitats), and the global climate.
“This is a tribute to the dedicated work of our local community organization and supporters around Australia who have helped us in this fight to protect our land, water, and future. Liberty Mutual has made the right decision by deciding not to lodge an EIS for this hugely unpopular, polluting coal project,” said Paul Stephenson, member of the Baralaba-based Save the Dawson community group. “Liberty Mutual should now withdraw its application entirely, publicly state that it is cancelling the project, and rule out support for coal expansion anywhere in the world.”
This decision comes just a few weeks after Save the Dawson filed a formal complaint with the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment network, which Liberty Mutual joined in December 2020. The insurer is facing expulsion from the U.N.-backed sustainable investment initiative if it moves ahead with construction of the mine.
Liberty is also under fire for its role as a top insurer of coal, oil, and gas expansion projects globally and for refusing to meet with community members impacted by projects that it insures and invests in. The company ignored thousands of questions on climate change and Indigenous rights at its annual meeting on April 14, and its most recent sustainability reports included zero new policies to limit support for fossil fuels, despite a stated commitment to “facilitate the transition to a low-carbon economy.”
“Liberty Mutual’s decision to cease building this massive coal mine is the result of powerful grassroots pressure targeting the company and a growing consensus that the climate cannot afford to build any new coal, oil, or gas infrastructure,” said Elana Sulakshana, Energy Finance Campaigner at Rainforest Action Network. “The fact that it took a herculean 10-year campaign by local community groups and the threat of expulsion from a sustainable investment network for Liberty to halt plans to build this climate-wrecking project makes clear how wholly inadequate the company’s current climate policies are.”
As a global laggard in the insurance sector, Liberty Mutual is facing pressure from policyholders, politicians, and insurance CEOs to step up its climate ambition and catch up to the best practice policies set by European and Australian insurance companies. In response to the mounting campaign, Liberty Mutual elected sustainable investing expert George Serafeim as a new board member this week.
“We welcome Serafeim to Liberty Mutual’s board of directors, and we hope that he will lead Liberty to adopt sustainability policies that align with a safe climate future and a world in which human rights are respected. That starts with closing the coal policy loopholes to rule out insuring and investing in all new coal projects, broadening restrictions to encompass oil and gas expansion, and ensuring that the right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent is obtained for all insured projects,” Sulakshana added.
Liberty’s role as an insurer of the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline is facing particular scrutiny, as the Canada Energy Regulator approved Trans Mountain’s request to hide the names of its insurers yesterday. Despite the ruling, a coalition of Indigenous rights and environmental groups pledged to ramp up pressure on Liberty Mutual and other insurers that have been previously linked to the project and have not yet ruled out supporting it again when the current insurance policy expires on August 31.
Insure Our Future in the U.S. is a campaign comprising environmental, consumer protection, and grassroots organizations holding the U.S. insurance industry accountable for its role in the climate crisis. It is part of the global Insure Our Future campaign, which promotes a rapid shift of the insurance industry away from supporting and financing fossil fuels to accelerating the transition to a clean energy economy.