‘The Achilles heel of the fossil fuel industry’: Why climate activists are targeting insurance firms

Environmentalist movement Extinction Rebellion is leading a week-long campaign in the UK targeting the global insurance industry.
Environmentalist movement Extinction Rebellion is leading a week-long campaign in the UK targeting the global insurance industry. Copyright  Eelco Böhtlingk
Copyright  Eelco Böhtlingk
By Rebecca Ann Hughes
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Environmentalist movement Extinction Rebellion is leading a week-long campaign in the UK targeting the global insurance industry.


US-based insurers invested hundreds of billions of dollars in fossil fuel companies that contribute to increased climate risks, a report from last year revealed.

Without insurance cover, drilling for oil and gas would struggle to continue.

Over two-thirds of the US’ insurers surveyed held fossil fuel-related assets worth $536 billion (€493 billion) in 2019.

The numbers are likely to be similar for subsequent years, according to sustainability consultancy ERM, investor advocacy group Ceres and carbon accounting firm Persefoni.

Now, activists are increasingly calling out insurance companies for their fundamental role in propping up the fossil fuel industry.

Environmentalist movement Extinction Rebellion is leading a week-long campaign beginning 26 February in the UK targeting the global insurance industry.

The group has warned insurance companies that if they don’t commit to stopping ‘enabling fossil fuels’ they will become targets for protest.

Insurers invest billions annually in fossil fuel production

Each year, the Insure Our Future campaign, comprising 24 NGOs, releases a ‘scorecard’ on 30 major insurers and their involvement in the oil and gas industry.

Insurers operating in the Lloyd’s of London market are the world’s biggest underwriters of fossil fuel projects, the 2023 survey found. Collectively, they had an estimated €1.5-€2 billion in annual premiums.

“If fossil fuel companies have no insurance for their massive projects, the entire financial risk falls on their shoulders, so if something goes wrong they are liable for whatever happens,” says Steve Tooze, a climate activist and member of Extinction Rebellion.

Companies insure all kinds of infrastructure including oil rigs and pipelines.

“However, what’s really worrying is that they are also insuring new projects that are referred to as carbon bombs like the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline,” says Tooze.

“All of these projects if allowed to go ahead would produce so much CO2 that they would make it very difficult for states to meet their legally binding agreements of keeping global temperature rises below 1.5C.

“Many of these insurance companies are refusing to rule out these carbon bomb projects.”

In contrast, some firms have stopped insuring homes in California, Florida and Louisiana, and in parts of Australia because of their vulnerability to natural disasters like flooding, wildfires and hurricanes.

‘The Achilles heel of the fossil fuel industry’

Extinction Rebellion describes insurance companies as the “Achilles heel of the fossil fuel industry” and the “people who could stop the fossil fuel crooks in their tracks overnight if they wanted to.”

“The insurance industries have a kind of superpower and they could make it almost impossible for fossil fuels to continue operate,” says Tooze.

“If insurance companies refused to insure these carbon bomb projects, we would immediately be in with a fighting chance of keeping temperature levels below what is currently projected.”


As such, insurance has now become an industry of interest for the climate movement after flying under the radar for a long time.

Tooze says the insurance sector, unlike the fossil fuel industry, is “willing to have a conversation” about how they operate.

“Their whole business model is at risk because the number of climate crisis-related disasters happening each year is increasing and insurance companies are covering the losses,” he says.

“So they know they are insuring the very people whose products are causing the environmental disasters that they are then having to cover the costs of - it’s a catch-22.”

Extinction Rebellion plans protests against insurance companies

From 26 February to 1 March, Extinction Rebellion will carry out a week-long campaign in the UK aimed at “disrupting, challenging and calling out the City of London firms most responsible for providing BP, Shell, and their oily pals with the insurance they need to keep drilling and burning.”


Over the week there will be street performances and speeches, art demonstrations, and People’s Assemblies - where “anybody who wants to can have their voice heard on how we tackle the climate and ecological crisis.”

On Wednesday, action will culminate in a rally leaving from London’s Trinity Square Gardens.

“The aim is to get a message across that we are not going to let insurance companies continue to fly under the radar and there will be reputational damage if they do not agree to stop enabling fossil fuel production,” says Tooze.

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