Insurance and Climate Change column

California Commissioner Pushing Insurer Fossil Fuel Divestment to The End

By | December 20, 2018

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones continues to push the fossil fuel divestment hot button right to the end of the year and his tenure as the state’s head insurance regulator.

Jones this week released the most recent data on oil, gas, coal and utility investments by insurers, adding the new fossil fuel disclosures to the Climate Risk Carbon Initiative database on the California Department of Insurance’s website.

The website is designed to provide transparency and insights into how much fossil fuel exposure each insurance company doing business in California faces, according to Jones.

The database reveals fossil fuel investments by insurer, including thermal coal, oil and gas, and utility investments, and includes three years of insurer fossil fuel investments from 2015 to 2017 searchable by insurer and year.

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones

The database also includes individual insurer responses to Jones’ request that insurers divest from thermal coal because of the risk thermal coal faces of becoming a stranded asset.

Jones touted the success of the database and his myriad efforts to get insurers to address climate change in November when he announced an increase in the number of insurers that divested or are committing to divest from thermal coal investments following his efforts to address climate-related financial risk.

“Climate change poses potential financial risks to insurers’ investments, particularly those investments in fossil fuels, as governments, businesses, consumers and markets transition away from fossil fuels in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change,” Jones said in a statement this week. “In 2016 I began requiring insurers to disclose their fossil fuel investments and I asked insurers to divest from thermal coal because of the risk thermal coal could become a stranded asset on the books of insurance companies as consumers, businesses, markets and governments transition away from thermal coal as a source of energy.”

The database tracks fossil fuels investments based on: oil and gas companies that receive 50 percent or more of revenue from mining, refining and exploration of oil and gas, thermal coal companies that generation 30 percent or more of their revenue from the mining of coal, utility companies that generate 30 percent or more of their power from thermal coal, and utility companies that generate 50 percent or more of their power from oil, gas, and coal.

This Year’s 10 Most Read IJ Articles on Climate Change

Climate change was a popular topic again this year, not with just regulators but with Insurance Journal readers also.

The 10 most popular articles featuring the climate change subject includes stories on federal reports, wildfires, the economy, Exxon, as well as Flo, Jake, the Gecko and friends.

The winner for the climate change article on Insurance Journal with the most pageviews was titled “Solutions to Wildfires in Time of Climate Change Are Costly, Unpopular.”

The article, which appeared in November, notes that as climate change causes more frequent and shocking blazes, a straightforward solution is to stop building homes in places that are likely to burn — and make homes that already exist in those areas a whole lot tougher.

Climate Change Is Beginning to Shift Planet’s Seasons: Scientists.” That was the headline on the next most popular Insurance Journal article focused on climate change. It notes that climate scientists have concluded that humans are pushing seasonal temperatures out of balance. It was not only a much-read piece, but it amassed an impressive 80 comments from readers.

The National Climate Assessment released the same month as the deadly fires in California warned that warming-charged extremes “have already become more frequent, intense, widespread or of long duration,” and that the last few years have smashed U.S. records for damaging weather. The article, “Report by 13 U.S. Agencies Warns of Dire Economic Effects from Climate Change,” was also wildly popular with Insurance Journal commenters.

A story titled “Judge Rules Government, Not President, Can Be Sued Over Climate Change” was the next most read. It reports on a U.S. district judge’s ruling that a group of young Americans suing the federal government over lack of action to fight climate change could proceed with their lawsuit, however U.S. President Donald Trump could not be named as a defendant.

Coverage of a report from the International Association of Insurance Supervisors and the Sustainable Insurance Forum, “Report Outlines Climate Change Risks Faced by Insurance Sector,” also attracted numerous eyeballs.

The rest of the top 10 are as follows (and thanks to Josh Carlson, vice president of technology for Insurance Journal owner Wells Media, for the metrics):

  1. Urgent Action Needed to Avoid ‘Unthinkable’ Damage from Climate Change: UN.
  2. Carbon Copies of Flo, Jake, Gecko Join Climate Change Protest at NAIC Meeting.”
  3. “XL Insurance to Cut Coal Industry Business Under Parent AXA’s Climate Order.”
  4. “Insurance Industry Making ‘Significant Contributions’ in Climate Change Battle, Report Shows.”
  5. “Exxon Gets Combative with Critics Suing Over Climate Change Policy.”

Cover Crops

A new study suggests winter crops may reduce snow reflectivity.

A study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research shows cover crops grown in fields during winter may be warming temperatures in northern U.S. and southern Canada.

The crops, a land management strategy used by farmers between growing seasons, create a darker surface than a snow-covered field, absorbing more heat from the Sun and producing a local warming effect, according to a synopsis of the report.

The report notes that cover crops have ecological benefits like reducing erosion and increasing soil productivity, but it appears they also have a downside.

“Most people look at cover crops for the localized benefits, but the fact that they might increase winter temperature means they could contribute to regional climate change,” stated Danica Lombardozzi, a plant ecologist at NCAR and lead author on the paper.

According to the report, vegetation protruding above the snow reduces the reflectivity of the surface. So instead of the bright snow reflecting solar heat back into space, the crop stems and leaves absorb the heat and warm the atmosphere around them.

The study suggests that tall, leafy cover crops can warm the surface in the growing region by up to 3 degrees C (5.5 degrees F).

The research also suggests that wintertime warming is particularly pronounced in regions where winter snowpack is variable, such as the American Midwest.

The Heartland Institute V. Climate Change

The Heartland Institute takes climate change to heart – if you’re not familiar with them, it’s not how it sounds.

The group this week released an audit of federal government websites that reveals many of these sites are still pushing “Obama-era climate-alarmist propaganda” rather than presenting “a sober look at current science.”

The audit shows that nearly two years after President Donald Trump took office and 19 months after he withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement, several government websites continue to implicitly or explicitly endorse that agreement.

Heartland Institute researchers performed an audit of government websites over the fall and found “outdated science and climate propaganda” on the websites of: NASA; NOAA; the Department of Energy; the Department of Agriculture; the Department of Defense; the National Institutes of Health; and the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

The Heartland Institute, a national nonprofit headquartered in Arlington Heights, Ill., with a stated mission to “discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems,” says it plans to conduct audits of additional federal websites and issue a second report in 2019.

“Apparently, hundreds of career bureaucrats missed the final results of the 2016 election: Hillary Clinton was not elected President of the United States,” Tim Huelskamp, president and CEO of The Heartland Institute, said in a statement. “Despite the clear direction from President Donald Trump, his appointees, legal and regulatory changes, and mounting scientific evidence, propaganda and climate alarmism proper to a Clinton administration are still being promulgated across dozens of taxpayer-funded web sites. This is a direct challenge to the proper authority invested in those elected by the American public and should be changed immediately.”

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