Gwich’in Steering Committee Leads 76 Organizations in Telling Insurers to Oppose Destruction of The Sacred Calving Grounds

November 19, 2020

TO: AIG, Allianz, Aviva, AXIS, Chubb, CNA, Generali, Liberty Mutual, Lloyd’s, Markel, Munich Re, QBE, RLI, SCOR, Sompo, Swiss Re, Talanx, The Hartford, Tokio Marine, Travelers, WR Berkley, Zurich

We, the Gwich’in Steering Committee and the undersigned organizations representing nearly 9 million members and more than $47 billion AUM, oppose any efforts to develop oil and gas in the remote and intact Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. We ask oil and gas companies, the banks that fund them, and insurance companies to stand with the Gwich’in Nation by not initiating any oil and gas development in the Arctic Refuge.

Specifically, we ask your company to:

  • Not insure or invest in the exploration, production, or transportation of oil and gas in the ArcticRefuge;
  • Adopt a formal policy to prohibit new insurance products or the extension of existing insurance contracts to cover the exploration, production, or transportation of oil and gas in the Arctic Refuge, including surety bonds, commercial multiple peril insurance, and reinsurance;
  • Avoid financing oil and gas development in the Arctic Refuge by ruling out investments in companies involved in Arctic Refuge development and those that do not have policies prohibiting their own involvement in the Arctic Refuge; and
  • Make these new policies and announcements open to the public.

We are also writing to your fellow leaders in the global oil insurance market and the Alaska insurance market. Timely action is necessary as the United States government recently finalized plans to sell oil leases in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge and oil companies will soon be searching for new insurance coverage for their planned development.

We urge you to listen to the voices of the Gwich’in and other Indigenous Peoples who depend on the Arctic Refuge and its resources to sustain their communities, culture, and way of life. The Gwich’in have a spiritual and cultural connection with the Porcupine Caribou Herd and the Herd relies on the Coastal Plain as their birthing and calving grounds. The Gwich’in refer to the area as “Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit” or “the Sacred Place Where Life Begins.” Drilling threatens the health of the Herd, which in turns, threatens the Gwich’in existence and way of life. This is why the Gwich’in Steering Committee formed in 1988 to act as the unified voice of the Gwich’in Nation in opposition of oil and gas development in the calving grounds. This is not just about animals and culture but also our human rights.

There are many other Tribal Nations who depend on the land, air, water, and animals that would be impacted by this development. Plans for oil and gas drilling threaten this rich pageant of wildlife. Beyond being the calving grounds for the Porcupine Caribou Herd, the Coastal Plain is the most important denning site for polar bears in the United States. Additionally, 42 fish species and over 40 land and marine mammals call the Refuge home. And over 200 resident and migratory bird species rely on the Refuge, which serves as a seasonal home for birds traveling from every U.S. state. Oil and gas drilling is not worth severely disrupting this delicate ecosystem capable of supporting such a vast diversity of life.

Alaska is thawing at three times the rate of the rest of the world and the Arctic is ground-zero for the climate crisis. Any fossil fuel development in the region will only exacerbate the already disastrous impacts of climate change on local communities and the global environment. Indigenous knowledge and environmental data converge on the same story of changing weather patterns, thawing ground, and ripple effects on ecosystems near and far (see the Arctic Indigenous Climate Summit Report).

These changes are already affecting people who live in the area and the viability of the project – introducing unjust challenges to hunting and fishing access, affecting animal migration routes and timing of movement, causing massive pre-spawned salmon die-offs in interior Alaska rivers, causing Arctic villages to erode into the sea, and permafrost melt making infrastructure insecure. Numerous U.S. government studies demonstrate that the minimum levels for surety bonds required by the federal government are insufficient to cover the costs of cleaning well sites that are often left abandoned by oil companies. With the rapid changes taking place in Alaska, insuring oil and gas development is a very risky and bad business decision.

Pursuing oil and gas in the Arctic Refuge is increasingly fraught with risk. The environmental, social, and governance factors linked with oil and gas development exposes your company to unnecessary reputational, legal, and financial risk. Drilling in the Arctic Refuge is an unpopular proposition in the United States. Two-thirds of American 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.

On the legal front, there are four active lawsuits challenging the Arctic Refuge leasing program. This includes a complaint filed by the Gwich’in Steering Committee and 12 other clients, a complaint filed by 15 States, a complaint filed by environmental groups, and a complaint filed by three tribal governments. In addition, a United Nations committee expressed grave concerns and called for an investigation of the United States. The push to drill in the Arctic Refuge suppresses our concerns and is a clear violation of our human rights, potentially in violation of your company’s own stated policies.

Recognizing the risks, 27 financial institutions, including five major American banks, have decided to not invest in oil and gas development in the Arctic. Recent polling shows that three in four voters support the financial institutions’ decisions.

Looking across the country and the world, there are Indigenous Peoples uniting and standing as one for our human rights. From the Arctic, to the tar sands, to the Amazon, Indigenous communities are demanding insurance companies make the right choice and support our struggle for Indigenous rights and our ways of life. We urge you to uplift and support these demands in the fight for climate justice. We urge you to stand with us and start protecting what we have left. Our future generations deserve to see the world as it was in the beginning, not just when we are done with it.

We ask that you make the policy changes listed above regarding oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and its impact on Alaska Native communities. We ask that you respond to inform us about the actions you take regarding our requests.

We are happy to discuss further and can arrange a meeting so you can better understand our concerns.

We look forward to your response.

Gwich’in Steering Committee
350 Colorado
350 Seattle
45North Partners
Alaska Wilderness League
Alaska Wildlife Alliance
American Packrafting Association
Arctic Audubon Society
Boston Common Asset Management, LLC
Braided River
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Yukon chapter
Center for Biological Diversity
Clean Energy Action
Clean Yield Asset Management
Climate Action Now!
Climate Hawks Vote
Divest Invest Protect
Domini Impact Investments LLC
Earth Action, Inc.
Environmental Protection Information Center
Figure 8 Investment Strategies
First Affirmative Financial Network
First Peoples Worldwide
Friends Fiduciary Corporation
Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges
Friends of the Earth Japan
Friends of the Earth US
Fundacja Rozwój TAK – Odkrywki NIE
Fund Our Future
Glasswaters Foundation
Great Old Broads for Wilderness
Hawai’i Institute for Human Rights
Heartland Initiative
Indigenous Environmental Network
Indigenous Human Rights Defenders and Corporate Accountability Program
Information Network for Responsible Mining
Integrated Capital Investing
Japan Center for a Sustainable Environment and Society (JACSES)
Klamath Forest Alliance
Land is Life
Mercy Investment Services, Inc.
Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation Community Trust
Native Movement
Natural Investments
NDN Collective
Northern Alaska Environmental Center
NorthFork Financial
Oil Change International
Oneida Nation
OVEC-Ohio Environmental Coalition
Pueblo Action Alliance
Rachel Carson Council
Rainforest Action Network
San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council
Seeding Sovereignty
Sierra Club
Sierra Club Foundation
Snowchange Cooperative
Swift Foundation
The Climate Museum
The Lands Council
The Morning Star Institute
The Wilderness Society
The Years Project
Turtle Island Restoration Network
Van Dam Scientific
Washington Wild
Wilderness Watch
Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN)

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