Elana Sulakshana is an energy finance campaigner at Rainforest Action Network. She led the campaign calling on Liberty Mutual to strengthen its climate policies and is a leader of the Insure our Future campaign. She has played a particularly important role in calling on insurers to drop the Trans Mountain pipeline in Canada.
Sulakshana's work has helped focus minds on the role that insurers could play, via their underwriting and investing, in shifting global infrastructure away from fossil fuels and towards renewables.
Her campaigning has contributed to some 30 insurance companies adopting coal policies, and she is maintaining the pressure to strengthen those policies, and act on the oil and gas sector.
What inspired you to work on climate change issues?
I was drawn to organise for climate justice as a teenager, after learning about the threats that climate change poses to coastal communities and seeing the impacts first-hand while visiting my family in South India.
Three years ago, I started working at the intersection of sustainability and insurance, after recognising the critical role that insurance companies play in managing risk – and the opportunities to leverage that role to keep fossil fuels in the ground and fight climate change.
What are your work priorities right now?
Alongside partners in the Insure Our Future coalition, I am currently focused on spurring the insurance industry to accelerate a low-carbon energy transition by limiting their fossil fuel underwriting and investing beyond coal.
At the global scale, very few insurers have adopted policies to limit oil and gas support, which is what is needed to meet the scale and urgency of the climate crisis. In the US, where I am based, insurers like AIG, Chubb and Liberty Mutual are major laggards when it comes to climate action, with non-existent or weak polices to restrict business in the fossil fuel sector.
Tell me one step the insurance industry needs to take, to improve its response to climate change?
Insurers must stop underwriting fossil fuel expansion. According to climate scientists and energy modellers, including the International Energy Agency, there is no room in the carbon budget for new coal, oil, and gas supply to stay within a safe climate limit. And yet, insurance companies are continuing to underwrite the buildout of dirty energy projects, while they proclaim their commitment to achieve "net-zero" emissions by 2050. Such commitments are not credible without policies to stop supporting fossil fuel expansion and plans to phase out fossil fuel support.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic we can avoid the worst effects of climate change?
I am hopeful that we can radically reshape our economy to reduce emissions rapidly and limit warming to 1.5ºC. But I also recognise that the climate crisis is already here, harming communities from North America to Asia. From here on out, every hundredth of a degree of warming that we can avert is critical.
What are you doing personally to reduce your climate impact?
I don't eat meat. I ride my bike and take public transportation whenever possible, and rarely buy new things. That being said, tackling the climate crisis requires transformational change at the systems level. We cannot avert climate chaos through personal choices. That's why I am committed to organising and building power to move institutions – including the insurance industry – to align with a just and stable climate future.