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Insurer Swiss Re takes stand against Arctic Refuge drilling

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, AK

Mason Cummings, TWS

Company says it does not associate with projects that violate Indigenous rights

Gwich'in Steering Committee Logo

FAIRBANKS, ALASKA (December 11, 2020) –  The Swiss Re Group—one of the world's leading insurers—has confirmed in a letter to the Gwich’in Steering Committee that it will not provide coverage or investment support for projects related to exploration, drilling or production of oil or gas in the Arctic, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It is the second such international insurance firm, after AXA, to make such a commitment.

“We do not associate ourselves with projects that violate the right of Indigenous peoples, such as the right of free, prior and informed consent,” Swiss Re stated in the letter.

The insurer further noted that it does not support businesses or projects that do harm to ecologically sensitive areas in compliance with its Sustainable Business Risk Framework. This includes areas protected under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature like the Arctic Refuge, which is a category IV National Park.

The Gwich’in have a cultural and spiritual connection to the Porcupine Caribou Herd, and the herd relies on the coastal plain as its birthing and calving grounds. That’s why the Gwich’in call the coastal plain ‘Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit’ or ‘the Sacred Place Where Life Begins.’

Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, said, “This land is sacred; it’s an area where life begins for many different animals. Protecting our land, water and animals is about our basic human rights. We have deep gratitude for those who stand with us during these uncertain times. We need these companies to stand with us, respect our human rights and our way of life. We are not asking for anything but to live and thrive off the land our Creator blessed us with.”

Organizations working to prevent drilling in the refuge have warned corporations that pursuing oil and gas in the Arctic Refuge is fraught with risk and exposes them to unnecessary reputational, legal and financial risk. Drilling in the Arctic Refuge is an unpopular proposition in the United States. Two-thirds of voters oppose drilling in the Arctic Refuge which is consistent with the long-held, popular, and bi-partisan support for permanent protection of the Arctic Refuge. In addition, there are four active lawsuits questioning the legality of the sale and the United Nations has issued two inquiries expressing grave concerns about the impacts of the project on the human rights of the Gwich’in.

“This rushed plan to auction off our sacred lands for oil drilling disrespects our human rights, ignores public opinion and denies the crisis of climate change. Our children’s future is not up for negotiation,” added Demientieff.  

Despite public opposition to drilling in the Arctic Refuge, the Trump administration completely ignored numerous concerns about the impact of oil development and did not adequately consult with Alaska Native Tribes. The Administration opened more than 1.5 million-acre of the coastal plain to oil and gas leasing with a controversial provision in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and is now rushing forward with a plan to hold a lease sale on Jan. 6, just weeks after the 60th anniversary of the Arctic Refuge’s founding.

Swiss Re now joins AXA and more than two dozen global banks, including the six largest U.S. banks, that have taken positions against investing in oil and gas development in the region. The Gwich’in Steering Committee and its allies will continue to pressure insurance companies, including Liberty Mutual, and oil companies to ensure the sacred calving grounds are protected.


Contact

Tim Woody, (907) 223-2443, [email protected]