Global campaign calls on Sweeney to stop insuring fossil fuel expansion
January 4, 2023 (Boston, MA) – Liberty Mutual’s new CEO Tim Sweeney, who officially took helm of the Boston-based insurer on Sunday, is facing calls to clean up his company’s climate and human rights record. Activists gathered outside the insurer’s Boston headquarters this week to ask Sweeney if he will step up as a climate leader and stop insuring fossil fuel expansion projects (photos here).
“A global campaign of climate advocates, Indigenous leaders, youth activists is calling on Sweeney to change the company’s course today and make Liberty Mutual a bold leader among U.S. insurers,” said Elana Sulakshana, Senior Energy Finance Campaigner at Rainforest Action Network. “Fossil fuel projects cannot be built or operated without insurance. As insurers around the world adopt policies limiting their support for these dirty energy projects, Liberty Mutual remains a top fossil fuel insurer and plays an increasingly key role in enabling the expansion of coal, oil, and gas infrastructure that the climate cannot afford.”
Although Liberty Mutual adopted restrictions on insuring and investing in coal in 2019, the policy is rife with loopholes that allow it to continue to insure new coal-fired power plants globally. With zero policies on oil and gas whatsoever, Liberty is lagging behind global and U.S. peers when it comes to climate action.
While it continues to insure and invest in fossil fuel projects and companies, Liberty is already taking an economic toll from the impacts of climate change. This past year, Liberty had among the highest catastrophe losses among US insurers, due to Hurricane Ian and other climate-fueled disasters. Sweeney works out of Liberty Mutual’s Boston headquarters, which are themselves at risk of flooding if global temperatures warm beyond 3ºC.
“It’s time for Liberty Mutual to stop fueling global warming,” said Massachusetts State Representative Dylan Fernandes, who represents Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket counties. “In Massachusetts, we see firsthand how climate change is causing flooding, heatwaves, and economic fallout. It is never acceptable to profit from the destruction of the health of our planet and its people. As the new CEO, Sweeney must divest from climate destruction, and instead invest in solutions that protect our planet and communities.”
As Liberty’s leadership transition unfolds, there are a number of decisions that communities around the world will be watching closely. Frontline and Indigenous leaders have reached out directly to discuss the harmful impacts of projects Liberty is insuring on their lands and livelihoods, but have been met with silence from the company. It remains to be seen if Sweeney, an advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion, will come to the table.
Liberty Mutual has come under fire for its insurance coverage of the Trans Mountain tar sands oil pipeline in Canada from First Nations and climate activists, but it has so far refused to cut ties. By contrast, twenty-two insurers have adopted policies limiting coverage for the tar sands oil sector, citing climate and human rights risks.
“For years, Liberty Mutual has ignored our letters and refused to sit down and hear our concerns about the multitude of risks facing the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. We have reviewed the pipeline under our own laws, and the Tsleil Waututh Nation continues to withhold our free, prior, and informed consent for the pipeline. We hope that CEO Sweeney will live up to his rhetoric on diversity, equity, and inclusion and stop insuring the Trans Mountain pipeline and other tar sands and fossil fuel projects that violate Indigenous rights and worsen the climate crisis,” said Charlene Aleck, spokesperson for Tsleil-Waututh Nation Sacred Trust Initiative.
In Uganda and Tanzania, activists are calling on Liberty Mutual to rule out support for the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), which would be the longest heated crude oil pipeline in the world if constructed and has already displaced thousands of people. Unlike 22 global insurers, Liberty Mutual is still at risk of supporting the project, which is currently on the market for insurance coverage.
“EACOP is facing serious risks that financial institutions do not want to support: the destruction of ecologically diverse and wildlife-rich regions, a massive carbon footprint, and mounting community resistance. The #StopEACOP campaign urges CEO Sweeney to swiftly rule out any support for the project and for deadly fossil fuel expansion,” said Samuel Okulony of Environment Governance Institute, a Ugandan organization and member of the #StopEACOP Campaign.
Liberty Mutual has also been linked to offshore oil and gas drilling in Brazil and the expansion of coal-fired power in Southeast Asia, among other projects. According to the latest data from the California Department of Insurance, Liberty had $2.3 billion invested in fossil fuel companies.