The Net-Zero Insurance Alliance (NZIA) has removed the criteria for members to set, publish or meet environmental objectives in the latest bid to assuage antitrust concerns.
The alliance was convened two years ago by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) as a way for insurance companies to signal their commitment to reducing the carbon footprint of their portfolios.
But the scheme has come under significant pressure of late, amid warnings from US lawmakers. Last December, a group of House Republicans issued a pointed warning about firms collaborating on sustainability initiatives, arguing that coordinated behaviour “may violate antitrust laws and harm American consumers”. Regulators in Europe have been much more firm on the issue, saying that collaboration is acceptable provided that practices do not become anti-competitive.
The warnings have spooked the NZIA, first causing Munich Re to “discontinue” its membership due to “material antitrust risks”; which was then followed by Zurich withdrawing from the Net-Zero Insurance Alliance back in April. In fact, there has been a mass exodus from the alliance in the last year; 17 companies who were listed as a member on the NZIA’s website exactly a year ago are no longer present.
What has the NZIA said about targets?
In a statement released by the NZIA in the last 24 hours, the alliance stresses the voluntary nature of the programme. “Each company who chooses to be a member of the NZIA unilaterally and independently decides on the steps on its path towards net zero. NZIA membership does not involve any coordinated competitive conduct or exchanges of competitively sensitive information.”
The language suggests that the NZIA is taking the American threats seriously, less than 18 months out from the next US presidential election.
Spot the difference: Members of the NZIA in July 2022 (below, left) and July 2023 (below, right), illustrating the mass exodus that has occurred
The alliance has decided that member companies will face no obligation to set or publish emissions targets. Instead, it will be a voluntary measure, and the member companies themselves will become responsible for setting the methodology, establishing the timeline, and deciding the way in which progress is communicated publicly.
However, it is still recommending that member companies follow The NZIA Target-Setting Protocol as a “voluntary best practice guide” to assist in the accurate measurement, standardisation and comparability of science-based decarbonisation targets for insurance and reinsurance underwriting portfolios.
Changes make net-zero alliance ‘an empty shell’
The latest announcement from the NZIA will call into question the insurance industry’s long-term commitment to reaching net zero, and has understandably caused some observers to question the purpose of an alliance with no reporting requirements.
Peter Bosshard, coordinator of the Insure Our Future campaign, said the changes would turn the NZIA into an empty shell of an organisation: “It is unfortunate that UNEP has caved in to the fossil fuel lobby and abolished the last material requirement which NZIA members have to fulfil. This reduces the alliance to an empty shell and opens the door for further net zero greenwashing by the insurance industry.”
Meanwhile, speaking at the Association of British Insurers’ (ABI) climate change summit, the CEO of Aviva, Amanda Blanc, blamed the NZIA fallout on “political crossfire” and urged fellow insurers to stay the course when it comes to their sustainability objectives. Aviva is one of 12 companies still listed as an NZIA member, according to the alliance.