In January, RAN and partners welcomed Liberty Mutual’s new CEO Tim Sweeney to the company and urged him to step up as a leader on climate and human rights. We set out a series of New Year’s Resolutions for Sweeney, who officially started on New Year’s Day, to ensure a safe and healthy planet for all, including an immediate end to insuring new fossil fuel projects and a strong policy to respect Indigenous rights.
Despite showing up at at Sweeney’s workplace – Liberty’s Boston HQ – and sending in thousands of emails, we haven’t heard a peep from the new CEO. That’s why we were anxiously waiting to see what happened last week. On Wednesday, April 12, Liberty had its annual meeting for policyholders of the company, who have a say in how it’s governed. In recent years, Liberty also releases the company’s annual sustainability reports the day of or just following the meeting.
Unfortunately, we came away highly disappointed. This April, Sweeney had the opportunity to chart a new direction for Liberty Mutual. But instead of announcing bold policies to protect people and the planet, Liberty doubled down on business as usual and rehashed tired excuses to continue insuring the expansion of fossil fuels.
What happened at Liberty’s annual meeting?
As in previous years, Liberty’s annual meeting was over in the blink of an eye; this one clocked in at just under 6 minutes. And as expected, Liberty didn’t allow for any engagement in the meeting itself. While Liberty claims to be a company by and for its policyholders – who technically are the owners of the corporation – it’s clear that when it comes to fossil fuel business, the company is attempting to silence concerned policyholders and frontline communities.
This year, six of Liberty’s board members were up for a vote, including Joseph “Jay” Hooley, who, as of May 2022, is the Lead Director of ExxonMobil, perhaps the most powerful Big Oil supermajor on the planet. Because Liberty will vote policyholders’ proxies on their behalf, Hooley and the other six directors, including two trustees of fossil-intensive utility Eversource Energy – William C. Van Faasen and former CEO David H. Long – were handily re-elected, despite concerns that Liberty’s climate agenda is being influenced by the fossil fuel interests on the board.
Since 2020, the meeting has been hosted online, and Liberty doesn’t let anyone speak or even comment in a live chat. The executives who ran the meeting also didn’t address any of the questions that policyholders had raised in advance about Liberty’s continued support for rights-violating, destructive fossil fuel projects like the Trans Mountain pipeline and offshore drilling in Brazil or refusal to rule out oil and gas extraction in the Arctic Refuge.
What did we learn from Liberty’s sustainability reporting?
Just following the meeting, Liberty released its annual Sustainability Review and its Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) report. Across 80 pages in total, Liberty lays out its strategy for addressing climate risk and engaging in the energy transition. Somehow, though, despite all of those words, the company hardly acknowledges the fact that it insures fossil fuels (let alone is a top fossil fuel insurer globally) and refuses to take responsibility to reduce fossil fuel exposure.
Instead, Liberty emphasizes its commitment to insuring and investing in renewable energy and other low-carbon technologies (as well as false climate solutions like carbon capture and storage and blue hydrogen). While insurers like Liberty do have a role to play in providing expertise and insurance capacity for real climate solutions, Liberty’s climate pledges cannot be taken seriously until it addresses its fossil fuel problem.
Liberty could have followed the lead of U.S. peer Chubb and announced measures to restrict oil and gas underwriting, which would begin to confront the scale of the climate crisis. But instead, under Sweeney’s helm, Liberty has opted to leave the door wide open to insuring the world’s most carbon-intensive companies and projects.
While we’re disappointed that Sweeney has failed to step up on his first real test of climate leadership, we are not deterred. Sweeney still has the opportunity to change course and demonstrate what real, credible action to protect our climate and respect human rights looks like. With your support, we know we can push Sweeney to insure our future.