Eco-underwriting

Greenpeace woos the insurance biz.

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Insurers and environmentalists make strange bedfellows. But over the past year, Greenpeace has made startling headway in enlisting segments of the $1.3 trillion global insurance industry in its fight against climate change, or global warming.

“What can the insurance business do to safeguard its future markets?” reads Greenpeace’s 1993 manifesto “Climate Change and the Insurance Industry.” Natural catastrophes are an industry hot button: From 1966 to 1987, no single natural catastrophe cost insurers over $1 billion (in 1992 dollars); between 1987 and April 1993, 11 natural catastrophes each topped the $1 billion mark. Greenpeace says these losses are the result of global warming.

Long term, Greenpeace hopes to cast the U.S. insurance industry in the role of corporate Lancelot against fossil fuel interests and for clean energy. The emerging relationship signals a change in the jobs-vs.-environment dichotomy that has stymied “green” policy-making efforts in the past. “Many feel that utopian, pinko Greenpeacers have an ax to grind in doing away with fossil fuels and want everybody to go back to the cave and freeze in the dark,” says Kelly Quirke, a Greenpeace activist. “But look at that insurance CEO in the suit over there: He’s losing his shirt.”

“I don’t know if Greenpeace is right,” says Frank Nutter, president of the Reinsurance Association of America and Greenpeace’s primary liaison with the industry. “But they certainly make a credible case. Our industry is in business to write insurance, and we should not be ignoring something so fundamental as a change in conditions–economic and environmental.”

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