In global first, interfaith letter calls out an insurance company for providing a lifeline to the coal industry as other insurers flee the sector
(AUGUST 26, 2021) — Sixty-five faith leaders, religious organizations, and congregations issued a letter today calling on GuideOne Insurance, a leading provider of insurance policies for faith communities, to end its practice of underwriting fossil fuel companies, whose products are responsible for climate change.
Nearly 75% of GuideOne’s business portfolio is made up of religious organizations, according to the company’s latest financial report. Yet while other insurers have exited the coal sector due to its climate-related risks, GuideOne has initiated a new “Energy and Mining” program designed to fill the growing gap in coverage. It is now offering to insure the coal sector, despite its 2017 commitment to divest from thermal coal by the end of 2019.
This letter represents the first time that the religious community has called on an insurance company to eliminate its coverage for fossil fuel companies. Signatories include Iowa Interfaith Power & Light, Iowa Methodist Federation for Social Action, GreenFaith, the Hindu American Foundation, and the Islamic Society of North America.
“GuideOne has served religious communities for decades,” said the Rev. Fletcher Harper, Executive Director of the international interfaith organization GreenFaith. “All major faith traditions have agreed that climate change is a sin against God, and that fossil fuels are its cause. We call on GuideOne to live up to the moral values that we have come to expect from it, and end its coverage for an unrepentant industry responsible for the destructive impacts of the climate crisis.”
The letter expressed concern that high-ranking GuideOne officials have pledged to insure coal companies and utilities that lost coverage as the global insurance industry retreats from coal. GuideOne Senior Vice President Mark Groenheide, in offering to fill the gap left by other insurers, said, “This space in particular needs capacity, needs capital, given the Europeans’ stance on coal… We will be supporting that.” According to GuideOne’s 2019 annual report, specialty underwriting, which includes fossil fuel underwriting, accounted for 5% of the company’s premiums but was being prioritized for growth.
Without insurance, fossil fuel companies cannot carry out their exploration, mining, drilling, and refining operations. As international pressure to reduce carbon emissions has grown, at least 30 of the world’s major property and casualty insurers have developed policies to end coverage for the coal industry, presenting a major threat to the industry’s future. Yet international insurance broker Wills Tower Watson found that GuideOne’s efforts may “increasingly offset” the retreat of other insurers from coal.
The letter calls on GuideOne to immediately end support for new fossil fuel projects and rapidly phasing out support for existing companies not aligned with a 1.5°C pathway.
“Religious communities around the globe have recognized climate change as an existential danger to hundreds of millions of people, particularly the most vulnerable among us who are most at risk from climate change,” said Rev. Dr. Gregory Simpson of the Nauraushaun Presbyterian Church. “An insurance firm seeking to serve the religious community cannot turn a morally blind eye to the industries it protects. GuideOne must end its coverage of the fossil fuel sector.”
“As people of faith and conscience, we know that everyone is called to climate action. It makes no sense for a company that claims to support faith-based institutions and our missions to develop additional business opportunities to advance new fossil fuel infrastructure that work in complete contradiction to our core values,” said Matt Russell, executive director of Iowa Interfaith Power & Light.
The letter from religious leaders follows a recent International Energy Agency (IEA) report which makes clear that development of new oil and gas must stop immediately and that no new coal-fired power stations can be built if the world is to meet the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degree temperature rise limit. It also comes soon after the UN released its recent report on the status of the global climate and a warning that it is a “code red for humanity.”
Coal is the most carbon-intensive of all fossil fuels. Religious leaders also expressed concern that pollution from coal is responsible for 10,000 premature deaths every year in the US alone, concentrated in communities of color, low-income communities, and among the elderly. The letter calls on GuideOne to join industry peers who have ruled out providing insurance for coal, and to increase their commitment to the renewable energy sector.
The letter builds on close to a decade of leadership by religious organizations in pressuring investors to divest from fossil fuel holdings. Over a third of all fossil fuel divestment commitments globally have been made by religious investors, and Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim organizations in the US, Canada, Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America have all taken steps to divest. The World Council of Churches, the Islamic Society of North America, the Church of Sweden, Union Theological Seminary, The Episcopal Church (US), and dozens of Catholic institutions have divested. The Vatican has also urged Catholic investors to divest their fossil fuel holdings.
“We see a moral imperative to address the climate crisis with the urgency it demands. Many religious groups have taken steps to divest from fossil fuels, for example, in recognition of the need to stop financing the industries driving climate change and to instead enable the transition to a clean energy economy, now,” the letter to GuideOne reads.
Signatories to the letter called on GuideOne to meet the following demands:
- Immediately stop insuring new and expanded coal, oil, and gas projects.
- Immediately cease insuring coal companies.
- Phase out, in line with a 1.5°C pathway, insurance for oil and gas companies.
- Divest all assets, including assets managed by third parties, from coal, oil, and gas companies not aligned with a 1.5°C pathway.
- Bring stewardship activities, membership of trade associations and public positions as a shareholder and corporate citizen in line with a 1.5°C pathway in a transparent way.
- Establish robust due diligence and verification mechanisms to ensure clients fully respect and observe all human rights, including the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) as articulated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
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.
For more information, contact: Jamie Kalliongis, (314) 651-7497, [email protected]