Zurich Insurance boss wants carbon tax to punish polluters

The logo of Zurich Insurance is seen in Davos, Switzerland, January 20, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
  • Carbon needs to be priced in everything - Greco
  • CEO wants public-private partnership on cyberattack risks
  • Sale of closed-book life portfolios progressing

ZURICH, Aug 12 (Reuters) - Zurich Insurance (ZURN.S) Chief Executive Mario Greco wants governments to levy a carbon tax and remove the incentive for socially irresponsible companies to maximise profits by polluting the environment, he told Reuters.

Europe's fifth-largest insurer has already taken steps to clean up its own house and cancelled coverage for around 100 corporate clients that had no intention of improving their sustainability, Greco said in an interview.

"There is a price imbalance which is not for us to fix. I think we have to make pollution or social lack of responsibility on sustainability expensive," he said as Zurich reported a strong rebound in first-half earnings. read more

"This is why I'm advocating for an intervention which eventually has to be a tax on pollution and on the creation of carbon. Carbon needs to be priced in whatever we do."

Zurich has announced plans for a 25% cut in carbon intensity for listed equity and corporate bond investments by 2025 and a 30% cut for direct real estate investments, as the world grapples with climate change sparking extreme weather events.

Greco also said he was keeping a tight grip on coverage of cyberattack risks, which he called huge and hard to assess. read more

"We will limit our exposures by event and by causes significantly," he said, calling for governments to step in too.

"Cyber - as some other risks like pandemic, like nuclear - requires a public-private approach. It can easily lead to a scenario where the consequences of a cyberattack can really be relevant for countries, for society as whole, and not just for private companies.

"I would be in favour of a public-private scheme addressing at least the biggest events."

Greco said Zurich had no global policy on having staff return to the office as the coronavirus pandemic ebbs. It was not forcing anyone to return even as it vaccinates its own staff in many countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas.

"It is wise, it is fair that people can work from home, but not always. We still need interaction with other humans," which boosts energy and fosters training and decision-making, he said.

The planned sale of its closed-book portfolio of life insurance in Italy and Germany was progressing.

"We think that if everything goes well Italy will be concluded in the second half of the year," he said.

"For sure Germany is about next year, not about this year. But there is no guarantee we will conclude the processes. We don't have to sell."

Reporting by Michael Shields Editing by David Holmes

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Switzerland and Austria bureau chief leading a multimedia team of journalists based in Zurich, Geneva and Vienna covering Swiss and Austrian spot news, features, pictures and video with experience reporting from dozens of countries on three continents since 1987.