European and worldwide insurance companies enforce policies of restricting insuring and investing in the coal companies. Against these trends, Polish PZU Capital Group is still not only underwriting operating mines and coal power plants (including Bełchatów – the biggest European carbon dioxide emitter), but also making new investments that produce additional emissions of harmful pollutants. The Annual General Meeting confirmed that the company's board does not intend to back out of the coal business, putting us all at risk.
The Annual General Meeting of PZU SA was held in Warsaw on May, 26. It was attended by Kuba Gogolewski, senior finance campaigner from Fundacja “Rozwój TAK – Odkrywki NIE”, who is also a minority shareholder in PZU. An Extinction Rebellion activist, Patryk Kowalczyk, demonstrated in front of the company’s headquarters. He was informing the bypassers about “PZU's dark secret”. The goal of the action, co organized by the foundation “Rozwój TAK – Odkrywki NIE” and Extinction Rebellion, was to demand that the company introduces a policy restricting investment in and underwriting of the coal sector.
PZU - a European laggard
PZU is the last European insurance company that has not yet adopted any criteria that put a ban on insuring new coal power plants and mines. By pursuing these acts, they undermine climate stability. Negative effects in the future will impact Polish economy as well.
PZU is lonely in its attempts to ignore the impact of climate change on its business. The biggest European insurance undertakings − being also the biggest in the world − whose reinsurance services have been used by the PZU in the past, are restricting the reinsurance of coal risks and of the companies from the coal industry. Also, the biggest insurance companies in Europe, amid the cost increase of natural catastrophes and given the pressure of civil society and public opinion, are toughening their attitude towards not only high-emission companies such es PGE, but also new coal power plants and mines. Effects of the change of this attitude could be tracked during the past two years, while reading about the trials and tribulations of the construction of a new hard coal power plant Ostrołęka C and attempts to sign a reinsurance contract covering the power plant’s construction and investment risks.
No more excuses to ignore the climate crisis
In order to deal with the consequences of the climate crisis on a big scale, the insurance industry must adopt clear plans of adjusting its whole activity to the climate goals established in the Paris Agreement in 2015. The first step is a complete withdrawal from the coal business. PZU, by ignoring the facts, is putting as all at risk.
On Wednesday, 5/20/2020, a coal policy was adopted by the biggest Italian bank SanPaolo, which until now has not had any climate restrictions. Thereby, PZU has become the last financial institution in the EU with its assets over 50 billions of euros which does not have any policies restricting coal sector investment.
− By supporting the coal industry, PZU is undermining both the stability of climate and of Polish economy in the medium and long term and increases air pollution, which is affecting our health. The acts of PZU impact the access and quality of water supplies and thus contribute to drought. Kuba Gogolewski comments: What is more, such company policies puts the whole financial system in Poland at more risk of destabilization in case of a fast net-zero emission transformation of the UE economy and the related elimination of coal extraction and combustion until 2030.
– Instead of insuring our security and future and those of our children, the company is contributing to the climate catastrophe (…). Before the General Meeting, Gogolewski adds: I have a right to demand change of this policy, given that it is acting to the detriment of the company, decreasing its value.
Business as usual
The PZU Annual General Meeting proved to be another enormous disappointment and a lost chance to understand the climate crisis. It is apparent that the company's board does not intend to change the existing policy. Earlier, disappointment was brought by the Pekao bank Annual General Meeting (May 22, 2020), which also belongs to the PZU Group. Pekao remains the only bank in Europe without any restrictions on financing of the coal industry and on the day of its Annual General Meeting lost its opportunity to change the state of affairs.
After the PZU Annual General Meeting Kuba Gogolewski said:– It is clear, after today's meeting, that a really huge outside impact, a big pressure, will be necessary in order for the PZU to adopt a policy in accordance with the scientific understanding of climate crisis and its effects. – Our next activities will consist of talks with the Polish Financial Supervision Authority (Komisja Nadzoru Finansowego) about the systemic risk for the Polish economy and for our financial system that PZU is creating by ignoring the climate crisis. We will also be involving on a legal level those reinsurance companies, on which PZU’s ability to reinsure the coal sector risk depends, especially Lloyd's from the British insurance market.
The pressure is rising
Even though the PZU government is still ignoring climate crisis, remaining in the tail of the European financial institutions, the pressure is rising. In the society, the awareness of the role of the insurance companies is increasing. Extinction Rebellion declares: – Be sure that we are observing your every move. And today’s action is only the taste of what we have prepared for you.
Media have also become interested in the topic. During the Annual General Meeting in front of the PZU's headquarters, an OKO.press journalist has done a coverage live. Also, Gazeta Wyborcza, SmogLab and Green-new wrote about the action of “Development YES – Open-pit Mines NO” Foundation and Extinction Rebellion.
Photography: Kajetan Abram