Home > Investors give QBE a free pass despite hypocrisy on climate

Investors give QBE a free pass despite hypocrisy on climate

6 May 2022

6 May 2022

A shareholder resolution calling on QBE to align its oil and gas underwriting and investment with the goals of the Paris Agreement achieved 19.8% support at QBE Insurance’s AGM yesterday. As has been the case for several years now, the AGM was dominated by questions regarding QBE’s willingness to underwrite new oil and gas projects.

Investors show either concerning incompetence or total contempt for climate action

Several events over the last twelve months have strengthened the case for investors to support the shareholder resolution on Paris alignment.

First, the further worsening of extreme weather, which continues to impact QBE’s profits. Its 2021 results show that catastrophe claims were 6.6% of net earned premium, up from 5.8% in 2020 and 3.7% in 2019.

Second was the release of the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) seminal net zero by 2050 scenario, which clearly shows no new oil and gas production projects can go ahead – in clear contradiction to QBE’s existing approach to oil and gas which involves continuing to underwrite these projects.

And third, QBE is increasingly being left behind by peers, with its laggard status further confirmed last week after Allianz joined competitors Suncorp and IAG in ruling out insurance for new oil and gas exploration and production.

Despite this, the shareholder vote for the resolution dropped from 21% in 2021. The investors which didn’t support the resolution have shown either total contempt for climate action or a concerning level of incompetence. It appears either shareholders were duped by QBE’s delay tactic of joining the Net Zero Insurance Alliance, or they are just not serious about aligning QBE’s business with the Paris climate goals.

QBE supports Paris and net zero with words, undermines them with actions

QBE claims to support the climate goals of the Paris Agreement and net zero emissions by 2050, but it continues to be willing to underwrite new oil and gas projects – in direct contradiction with the clear 1.5 degree and net zero scenarios as published by the IPCC and IEA.

This contradiction was exposed by clever questioning from a shareholder – see the video below.

QBE uses several stock-standard lines to delay putting in place Paris-aligned policy. It claims to support an “orderly” transition away from fossil fuels (which is exactly what the 1.5 degree and net zero scenarios are), and it rails against an “exclusionary approach to all fossil fuel-related activity” (which no one is asking for). Additionally, its joining of the Net Zero Insurance Alliance (NZIA) has become a convenient excuse to stop insuring new oil and gas projects – an excuse many of its competitors do not use, as they continue to improve their oil and gas policies even while waiting for the NZIA “target-setting protocol” to be published.

These straw-man arguments and excuses were torn apart by questions from Australian Ethical (which co-filed the shareholder resolution discussed above) and Pablo Brait from Market Forces, attending the AGM as a shareholder proxy.

Lismore flood survivor confronts QBE board

In the AGM’s most dramatic moment, Naomi Shine from Lismore bravely told the QBE board about the loss of her house in the recent Lismore floods, and put a face to the impacts QBE is fueling via its support for new oil and gas projects. She tried to get QBE Chairman Mike Wilkins to commit to not insure some of the most dirty and dangerous new oil and gas projects, but he refused to do so. You can watch her question below:

Concerns over new QBE board member’s oil and gas links

In a further sign QBE and its investors are refusing to take the climate crisis and QBE’s own commitments to Paris and net zero seriously, a new board member who is also on the board of oil and gas company Santos, Yasmin Allen, was appointed to the QBE Board.

This poses a serious question over conflicts of interest. QBE’s profits are being smashed by ever-worsening extreme weather, fueled by climate change, while Santos’s business is reliant on selling a product that makes climate change and this extreme weather worse. Santos is actively working against limiting global warming and therefore directly against the interests of QBE.

Market Forces raised this question at the AGM, which was answered via a general statement on conflicts of interest. See video below.

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