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Columbia alumni call on Generali Chairman to drop coal

We are alumni of Columbia University and members of the Columbia Divest for Climate Justice campaign. We wrote the following letter to urge our fellow Columbia alumnus –Mr. Galateri di Genola – to take bold climate leadership as the Chairman of the Generali Group and stop underwriting coal projects around the globe.

Generali’s climate ambition is not keeping pace with its peers. On May 4, Allianz, the world’s largest insurance company (ranked by assets), announced that it will no longer provide stand-alone insurance coverage for coal power plants or coal mines. With this decision, Allianz is joining fellow insurance giants AXA, Zurich, and SCOR, who have also committed to stop insuring some or all new coal projects. The pressure is building on Generali to follow their lead.

Informed by Insure Our Future’s research on the funding of coal-fired power plants in Poland and inspired by the recent action at Generali’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Italy, we are adding our voices to the 90,000 signatories who have already demanded that Generali stop funding climate death and destruction.

To Mr. Galateri di Genola, member of the Board of Overseers at Columbia Business School and Chairman of the Generali Group,

We write to you as fellow Columbia graduates. During our time at the University we stayed up all night in Butler Library and lounged in the sun on the steps of Low, perhaps much like you did during your time at Columbia Business School in the early 1970’s. Given that you are now the Chairman of the Generali Group, the third largest insurance company in the world, we urge you to lead Generali into a low-carbon future by no longer insuring coal projects.  

We are recent graduates who majored in Sustainable Development and were active in a campaign to divest Columbia’s endowment from the fossil fuel industry. We organized for divestment because we felt strongly that if our university’s mission is to prepare us for the future, it must also do its part to ensure that we have a safe and stable future to live for.

Since 2012, Columbia Divest for Climate Justice has advocated for the University to divest its $9 billion endowment from coal, oil, and gas. Thanks to the groundbreaking work of the Columbia Journalism School, we know that ExxonMobil has obscured the truth of climate change since the 1980s, like many other fossil fuel companies (as recent investigations have revealed). We campaigned for the University to cease funding these companies because divestment makes clear who is responsible for the climate crisis and who is profiting from it: the fossil fuel industry and its beneficiaries.

After a long campaign, Columbia committed to divesting its direct holdings from thermal coal companies in 2017. We’d like you to continue in this Columbia tradition and take the next step in making coal history by using your position of leadership as Chairman of the Generali Group to stop providing insurance for coal projects.

Generali is not only a large institutional investor (several times larger than Columbia); it is also one of the world’s biggest managers of risk. As such, Generali is one of the ultimate arbiters about which technologies continue to pose acceptable risks to society.

We acknowledge the February announcement that Generali will divest approximately 2 billion from coal companies, and increase its “green investments” by 3.5 billion by 2020 as important first steps. Though this is evidence that Generali is moving in the right direction, we believe that this decision, in which we understand you were personally involved, does not go far enough.

It is disturbing that your enterprise continues to insure and facilitate coal, tar sands and other highly destructive fossil fuel projects. Though information about the majority of these projects is not publicly available, we do know that Generali has insured at least eight coal projects in Poland since 2013. According to public health experts, these coal-fired power plants are causing thousands of premature deaths in Poland and beyond. We believe such practices are unacceptable for a climate-conscious health insurer that claims to “protect and improve people’s lives.”

Other major insurance companies including AXA, SCOR and Zurich have recently taken steps to stop insuring coal completely, and Swiss Re is currently preparing to do the same. The Financial Times (not a radical paper) has called this trend a “welcome and logical development.”

We call on you, Mr. Galateri di Genola, to assert your personal leadership to end Generali’s insurance support for these coal projects, which pose serious health risks and hold the world back from fighting the climate crisis. We also call on you to not insure any fossil fuel projects that violate human rights, particularly indigenous rights, and to cease all support for fossil fuel projects in a timeline that is consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

As a member of the Columbia Business School Board of Overseers, you are clearly invested in supporting the future of global business leadership. The Columbia Business School offers programs on climate change, business, and finance, informed by the cutting-edge climate science conducted at Columbia’s Earth Institute.

As you know, the economics and science make clear that a future of burning coal is incompatible with a safe future for humanity. You can send a strong message about what leadership looks like by bringing your business practices in line with your company’s purported values and the actual risks at stake.  


Daniela Lapidous and Elana Sulakshana

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