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Chinese insurers Ping An, PICC lag in global coal exit ranking, which looks at investments and underwriting

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Chinese insurers have performed poorly in a global ranking that examines the industry's approach to fossil fuel exit policies, with Ping An Insurance ranking just 21st among 30 companies assessed with two other Chinese insurers ranking even lower.

The scorecard - called "Insure our future" - is in its fifth year and is published by a global NGO coalition group under the same name. It focuses on the 30 most important insurers in the power sector worldwide, and ranks them according to their policies on coal, oil and gas insurance, and their overall approach to exiting fossil fuel. Progress on both their underwriting standards and investment policies is assessed.

"While Chinese insurers recognise the government's goal on reaching carbon neutrality by 2060, they still have a long way to go in terms of their coal restrictions and exit policies," said Peter Bosshard, a Switzerland-based director at international NGO The Sunrise Project. He is also one of the co-authors of this year's report.

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President Xi Jinping pledged in September at the United Nations General Assembly that China would no longer build new coal-fired power plants abroad. This cemented his earlier commitment that the country, the world's largest producer of fossil fuel carbon emissions, would be carbon neutral by 2060.

Ping An Insurance, China's largest insurer, ranked 21st in fossil fuel insurance, dropping from 18th spot last year but slightly ahead of the only other two Chinese insurers assessed this year. The People's Insurance Company of China (PICC) and China Export & Credit Insurance Corp, ranked equal 23rd, among the lowest performers which also included US insurers such as AIG, and insurance companies under the Berkshire Hathaway group.

Ping An Insurance declined to comment on the ranking on Tuesday while PICC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The top three performers this year were Allianz, AXA and Axis Capital respectively.

Insurers play a key role in driving the transition to a low-carbon economy. Without insurance, most new fossil fuel projects cannot go ahead and existing ones would be forced to close, according to the Insure our Future report.

Conversely "insurers who are not aligning their business with the Paris Agreement are undermining global climate targets, contributing to mounting economic and social chaos," the report authors wrote. Insured losses from natural disasters reached US$42 billion in the first six months this year, a 10-year high, according to global insurance broker Aon.

With assets of about US$30 trillion, insurers are also the second-largest group of institutional investors after pension funds and therefore their decisions on where they invest their policy holders' money also holds sway in efforts to limit global warming.

Ping An released a five-year "green finance initiative" plan this year which outlines its investment approach to achieving carbon neutrality in its investment portfolio by 2060, and to increase its green assets to 400 billion yuan (US$62.5 billion) by 2025.

It will divest its bond, equity and other securities investments in companies with over 30 per cent revenue derived from thermal coal and coal-fired power business by the end of 2035. With respect to Ping An's insurance underwriting, the road map to phase out coal-related projects appears less clear.

"Based on a current assessment of the state's dependence on coal energy resources, a coal phase-out plan is not realistic in China in the coming decade," it said in a separate statement on "coal-related business" in 2019. The company added that it would give more consideration to companies with low environmental damage risk and high thermal efficiency.

By running the annual scorecard, the Insure our Future coalition wants to make a tangible impact, as it has led to insurers benchmarking themselves against their competitors and ultimately led to their coal exit, according to Bosshard.

Since the first scorecard's publication in 2017, 35 insurers have withdrawn insurance cover for coal-based industries, up from 23 insurers last year.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2021 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2021. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.