King coal no more as insurer Axa vows to divest from fossil fuel

The insurer Axa has promised to sever ties with the coal industry as part of a climate strategy to phase out the group’s multibillion pound investments and insurance underwriting of companies that back the fossil fuel.

Axa said it intended to exit the coal industry by 2030 in Europe and other members states of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and by 2040 in the rest of the world.

Its climate strategy would wipe almost $664m (£515m) of investment from the coal industry, according to the Global Coal Exit List database. The move comes two years after Axa revealed plans to end its support for controversial US oil pipelines linked to tar sands.

The French insurer will also stop underwriting policies for companies which plan to invest in any coal-fired power project larger than 300MW. Instead, it will offer companies “transition” bonds to help finance a shift to cleaner energy, and will double its green investments ambition to reach €24bn (£19.6bn) by 2023.

Thomas Buberl, the chief executive of Axa, said the new phase of its climate strategy will accelerate its contribution to a resilient, low-carbon economy, by focusing its efforts towards the energy transition of major industries.

“It is an absolute priority if we want to reach the objectives of the Paris agreement,” he added.

Axa’s climate pledge comes amid rising pressure on banks and financial services companies to cut ties with the global coal industry to help protect the environment and safeguard long-term investments.

Germany’s Allianz and Italy’s Generali agreed to limit underwriting for coal companies last year, and Lloyds of London began excluding coal from its investment strategy from April 2018.

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Green groups described Axa’s anti-coal plans as a baseline for others to follow.

Lucie Pinson, an adviser for Friends of the Earth France’s campaign on private finance, said AXA had set “a new global benchmark for best practice with this coal phase-out policy.

She added: “Zero tolerance for coal expansion is the only responsible action in a carbon-constrained world. Financial institutions with weaker coal policies, like BNP Paribas and Talanx, now risk looking flat-footed.”

Kaarina Kolle, a finance and utility coordinator at the Europe Beyond Coal campaign, said: “The only defensible position is one like AXA’s. This is the minimum standard for any financial institution committed to the Paris climate agreement’s 1.5 degree warming limit.”


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