QBE leaves door open to oil and gas phase out

Bush fire in Queensland

QBE Insurance faced a barrage of questions as well as a shareholder resolution calling for the company to set targets to phase out its exposure to all fossil fuels at its annual general meeting on Thursday 9 May.

Although QBE took a big step forward in March when it committed to ending underwriting for new coal projects by 1 July 2019 and phase out its thermal coal underwriting business by 2030, the insurance giant has indicated it remains open to underwriting new and expansionary oil and gas infrastructure. This puts it out of alignment with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

After several moving questions from people who have faced climate-related disasters themselves critiquing QBE’s Energy Policy, QBE chairman Marty Becker insisted this policy was a “living document” that “may change tomorrow” and that “you will see more from us [on global warming] in the future”.

So while QBE’s board avoided answering most questions put to it about the company’s continued support for dirty oil and gas – it has said it is open to change.

QBE asked why it still backs tar sands, oil and gas

Several questions focused on QBE’s continued support for fossil fuels apart from thermal coal.

Janet, who lost her house in a bushfire at Nambugga in southern NSW last year, pointed out that if QBE has ruled out thermal coal due to its high carbon emissions, then it should also be phasing out its tar sands and unconventional gas (fracking) investments and underwriting (insuring). Watch her question below.

In a moving moment, Tony, a diving instructor with 40 years’ experience working on the Great Barrier Reef, pointed out that the survival of coral reefs depends on rapidly reducing all fossil fuel use. Watch below.

Jo, a local councillor and survivor of the devastating Tathra bushfire on the NSW south coast in 2018, challenged QBE’s ridiculous claim that natural gas could be a “transitional fuel”. The Chairman was unable to justify the use of that term. Watch below.

Unaffordability of insurance discussed

Another major discussion point at the AGM was the growing impact of the climate crisis on the cost and accessibility of insurance.

In 2018, IAG and the NZ Reserve Bank warned the effects of climate change will render huge swathes of the globe uninsurable. The same warning was made specifically for Townsville after its record-breaking floods in February 2019. According to Munich Re, during the three decades to 2012 Australian weather-related insurance losses rose fourfold. The world’s largest reinsurance company warned in March 2019 that global warming is on track to make insurance unaffordable for low and average income earners in some regions, causing serious economic and social disruption.

Paul, whose property in the Whitsundays was damaged by cyclone Debbie in 2017, has direct experience of this. He has seen his own insurance premiums go up significantly, and wanted to know what QBE proposed to do about it…

And Nick, another Tathra bushfire survivor who had trouble finding insurance for a new office in Bega due to bushfire risk, asked the critical question as to whether QBE was prepared to tell customers that their properties were going to be made uninsurable because of the impacts of global warming.

Shareholder resolution

The shareholder resolution calling on QBE to set targets for reducing its investment and underwriting exposure to coal, oil and gas achieved 7.8% of the vote. This was lower than initially expected as QBE’s coal policy satisfied many investors. It is disappointing that major investors, such as some super funds, are still not prepared to take a big-picture view of the climate crisis, despite claiming to do so.

Market Forces’ campaigner Pablo Brait put forward the argument for why investors should back the resolution. You can read the full statement here.

Take action. Contact QBE using the form below to ask it to apply its thermal coal phase-out policy to tar sands, oil and gas too.