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An insurance adjuster walks through a Coffey Park home that was destroyed by the Tubbs Fire on October 23, 2017, in Santa Rosa, California. Photo: Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

Seven global insurance companies — including the world's largest primary insurers and reinsurers — have now stopped or limited insuring coal projects. These moves come at a time when the costs of climate-related impacts continue to grow.

Why it matters: The insurance industry is a key and often overlooked player in the financial system that continues to enable coal industry expansion, as well as a bellwether for broader systemic risks climate change is expected to pose. Although the international industry has begun to act, the U.S. industry continues to lag.

Coal pollution contributes to 800,000 premature deaths annually, and, as coal becomes increasingly uncompetitive, governments across Asia are considering new clean-air regulations that could further undermine coal-plant economics. But incumbent forces continue to keep coal afloat.

Where it stands: Despite progress from global insurance companies — including stricter limits on coal from Europe’s third-largest insurer — U.S. insurance companies remain out of line with emerging global standards: AIG, Chubb, Berkshire Hathaway, and Liberty Mutual rank last in reducing their exposure to coal, even as costs associated with wildfires and hurricanes keep growing. Thus far, the only U.S. company to distance itself from coal is the Silicon Valley–backed startup Lemonade.

Between the lines: U.S. insurance companies clearly don't see climate change as a major risk to their bottom lines. As global insurers exit the coal sector, their U.S. counterparts are effectively offering a lifeline to new coal projects that align with the Trump administration’s energy policies.

Yes, but: As long as customers don't default on their premiums, insurers (like other suppliers) will benefit from selling services to a sector that's losing its competitiveness. This will change only once insurers start to lose other customers because of reputational harm.

What to watch: Last year was the second costliest since 1970 for insurers, hitting $337 billion, 73% of which was from Gulf Coast hurricanes and California wildfires. U.S. insurers may either raise consumer premiums, passing on the cost of extreme weather to consumers, or decline to insure people in risk-prone areas.

Justin Guay directs global climate strategy at the Sunrise Project and advises the ClimateWorks Foundation.

Go deeper

House passes sweeping election and anti-corruption bill

Photo: Win McNamee via Getty Images

The House voted 220-210Wednesday to pass Democrats' expansive election and anti-corruption bill.

Why it matters: Expanding voting access has been a top priority for Democrats for years, but the House passage of the For the People Act (H.R. 1) comes as states across the country consider legislation to rollback voting access in the aftermath of former President Trump's loss.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

House passes George Floyd Justice in Policing Act

Photo: Stephen Maturen via Getty Images

The House voted 220 to 212 on Wednesday evening to pass a policing bill named for George Floyd, the Black man whose death in Minneapolis last year led to nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

Why it matters: The legislation overhauls qualified immunity for police officers, bans chokeholds at the federal level, prohibits no-knock warrants in federal drug cases and outlaws racial profiling.

5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Senate Republicans plan to exact pain before COVID relief vote

Sen. Ron Johnson. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Republicans are demanding a full, 600-page bill reading — and painful, multi-hour "vote-a-rama" — as Democrats forge ahead with their plan to pass President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

Why it matters: The procedural war is aimed at forcing Democrats to defend several parts the GOP considers unnecessary and partisan. While the process won't substantially impact the final version of the mammoth bill, it'll provide plenty of ammunition for future campaign messaging.