Global insurers’ focus on ESG will impact energy sector: report

By Katie Keir | June 2, 2021 | Last updated on December 6, 2023
2 min read
Gas flaring. Torch against the sky.
© Leonid Ikan / 123RF Stock Photo

The global insurance industry is responding to the call for greater environmental, social and governance (ESG) investment efforts, leading to “ambitious emissions targets” and coverage restrictions for high polluters, said a new report from DBRS Morningstar on Wednesday.

Through both the coverage they offer to energy projects and their investment portfolios, insurers are increasingly focusing on ESG and sustainability, the report said, noting, “Many of the largest global insurance providers have signed up to comply with climate friendly frameworks for sustainable insurance and are investing with the support of the United Nations.”

One example is the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association (CLHIA), which signed on to the United Nations’ sustainable insurance initiative in December. The organization stated at the time that it’s crucial for the industry to understand ESG risks in order to remain resilient, affordable and accessible.

The DBRS Morningstar report, “ESG Takes Center Stage as Insurers Set Sustainability Goals and Restrict Cover to High Polluters,” said facilitation of the transition to a low-carbon economy is a main goal for insurers.

It also predicted that many insurance companies will start adapting to ESG frameworks in the near term.

Alongside setting emissions targets that will affect their coverage of Canadian energy projects going forward — affecting tarsands in Canada and coal, the report suggested — multiple insurers in Europe have announced decarbonization plans for their investment portfolios.

For example, the report said both London, U.K.–based Aviva PLC and Switzerland-based Zurich Insurance Group have recently pledged to become net-zero carbon emissions companies by 2040 and 2050, respectively.

In particular, Aviva said in a March release that it’s aiming for “a cut of 25% in the carbon intensity of its investments by 2025 and of 60% by 2030,” and that the decision “will inform every aspect of operations and investment decisions at Aviva.”

DBRS Morningstar also mentioned the UN’s Principles for Responsible Investment in its report, saying they’re “driving change” and increasing ESG trends in the global financial industry.

Insurers in particular are “major investors, with estimated total global assets of about [US]$36.3 trillion dollars in 2019,” the report said, so their influence is significant and should be considered.

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Katie Keir

Katie is special projects editor for and has worked with the team since 2010. In 2012, she was named Best New Journalist by the Canadian Business Media Awards. Reach her at