Will New CEO Tim Sweeney Clean Up Liberty Mutual's Climate and Human Rights Record?
Will the insurance giant's top executive continue to unlock the fossil fuel industry's plans to ramp up coal, oil, and gas extraction, or instead adopt policies to accelerate a just energy transition?
You have likely never heard of him, but Tim Sweeney just became a critical decision maker when it comes to the fate of the fossil fuel industry's global expansion plans. As of January 1, 2023, Sweeney is the new CEO of Boston-based insurance giant Liberty Mutual, which is one of the biggest coal, oil, and gas insurers in the world.
Without the policies that Liberty Mutual and other big insurers provide, new fossil fuel projects like offshore drilling rigs, liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals, and oil and gas pipelines, cannot be constructed. Liberty also invests $2.3 billion of its premiums – that’s the money it collects for car, home, and other insurance policies – into fossil fuel companies.
From day one, new CEO Tim Sweeney must choose: will he continue to unlock the fossil fuel industry’s plans to ramp up coal, oil, and gas extraction, or instead adopt policies to accelerate a just energy transition?
Activists in Boston visited Liberty Mutual’s headquarters this week to congratulate Sweeney on the new role and ask him if he will step up as a climate leader. They handed out flyers to employees headed into work and plastered posters around the area, with our questions: “Which side are you on, Sweeney?” and “What is your plan?” – but have yet to get a response.
Our New Year’s Resolutions for Sweeney
With the first day of 2023 also Sweeney’s first day on the new job, Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and partners in the Insure Our Future campaign are calling on him to adopt these New Year's resolutions to ensure a safe and healthy planet for all:
- Immediately stop insuring new and expanded coal, oil, and gas projects.
- Commit to phase out insurance for coal, oil and gas companies in line with 1.5ºC.
- Divest all assets from coal, oil, and gas companies that are not aligned with a 1.5ºC pathway.
- Adopt a policy to ensure the projects and clients you insure respect the right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) of impacted Indigenous Peoples.
With these resolutions, Liberty Mutual would catapult from being a global laggard on climate to a global leader. Insure Our Future’s sixth annual Scorecard on Insurance, Fossil Fuels, and the Climate Emergency, released in October 2022, found that Liberty Mutual’s fossil fuel insurance policies earned just 0.4 out of 10 points. Of 30 large insurance companies, it ranked near the bottom, even behind US peers like AIG and The Hartford. But with Sweeney now in charge, Liberty has the opportunity to change course and demonstrate what real, credible action looks like.
Sweeney’s Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Throughout his career, Sweeney has been a champion for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within Liberty. However, he has yet to extend his DEI analysis to recognize that fossil expansion projects, in addition to climate impacts, disproportionately harm communities of color in the US and globally.
For years, frontline and Indigenous leaders have reached out to Liberty executives directly, asking to discuss the risks of projects Liberty is insuring or at risk of insuring on their lands, cultures, and livelihoods. They have been met with silence from the company.
It remains to be seen if Sweeney will live up to his DEI rhetoric and come to the table and listen to the communities who are being impacted by Liberty’s business decisions. As the leadership transition unfolds, we’ll be watching Liberty’s response on these specific projects (and others) very closely to see where Sweeney lands:
- Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline: Liberty Mutual has come under fire for its insurance coverage of the Trans Mountain tar sands oil pipeline in Canada from First Nations and climate activists, but it has so far refused to cut ties. By contrast, twenty-two insurers have adopted policies limiting coverage for the tar sands oil sector, citing climate and human rights risks. Will Liberty join them?
- Oil and gas drilling in the Arctic: Liberty Mutual has refused to rule out insurance coverage for Arctic oil and gas drilling. The Gwich’in Steering Committee has called on global insurers, like Liberty Mutual, to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from the harms of fossil fuel development, but Liberty has so far refused to adopt a policy, or even meet with Gwich’in leaders.
- The East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP): If constructed, EACOP would be the longest heated crude oil pipeline in the world, transporting oil 1443 kilometers from Uganda to Tanzania and emitting an estimated 34 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually at peak production. The project has already displaced thousands and threatens the water resources and livelihoods of millions of people. To date, 23 insurers (and counting) have ruled out support for the project due its massive risks – is Liberty Mutual #24?
An Opportunity for Bold Leadership
Sweeney isn’t the only new executive at Liberty Mutual. Alongside him, a team of Liberty Mutual senior officials moved into new roles at the start of this year, and they’ve clearly got their work cut out for them. Liberty is already taking an economic toll from the impacts of climate change, experiencing among the highest catastrophe losses among US insurers this year, due to Hurricane Ian and other climate-fueled disasters.
This should be an issue that hits close to home for Sweeney, who is from Lowell, MA and works out of Liberty Mutual’s Boston headquarters. These flagship offices in Back Bay are at risk of flooding if temperatures warm beyond 3ºC, given how vulnerable large swaths of the city are to sea-level rise. As a company proud of its Boston roots, Liberty Mutual must tackle its contribution to the climate crisis to protect its own offices, its city, and the global climate.
Which side are you on, Tim Sweeney? Will you continue to enable the fossil fuel industry’s expansion agenda through Liberty’s insurance and investment portfolio, or will you step up in 2023?