Sites for sore eyes

France may have been well-advised to beware the ides of April.

The world watched in horror as the Notre Dame, a symbol of France’s religious history and a UNESCO heritage site, went up in flames on April 15. Although France has pledged to rebuild the iconic landmark, the anguish caused by the incident highlights how integral heritage sites are to our daily lives.

Fire hazard, however, isn’t all that is threatening world heritage sites. A number of activities that go against the sustainability of the planet pose greater risks to the survival of these wonders. To name a few: exploration and extraction of oil, gas and minerals; illegal logging; overfishing; unsustainable use of water and large-scale projects that ignore the environmental impact of building urban infrastructure.

At risk are as many as half of the world heritage sites, according to UNESCO. 

A world of wonders

We’ve grown up watching documentaries about them, ‘liked’ the stunning social media images that show off their beauty, spent our vacations among them, even put some of them on our bucket lists.

Our future generations, however, might be deprived of life’s little joys like these.

Take for example, the Great Barrier Reef, that breathtaking display of underwater colors off the Australian coast. Or the Everglades National Park, the “river of grass” in Florida which has inspired many a Hollywood movie. Climate change, contaminants from land run-offs, coastal development and excessive fishing are increasing the possibility of the world’s largest coral reef system becoming just a chapter in tomorrow’s history books.

Everglades, which holds an unenviable spot in UNESCO’s danger list, has suffered the ravages of urban growth, pollution, and natural disasters.

From the historic center of Vienna to the silver mining city of Potosí in Bolivia to the East Rennell in the Solomon Islands and the tropical rainforests of Sumatra, many heritage sites are already in the threatened list. Many others are being subjected to activities that could land them a spot on this list.

Can insurers change their fate? The United Nations certainly believes so, as demonstrated by its Principles for Sustainable Insurance Initiative (PSI), to which Allianz is a signatory. 

Securing the future

PSI signatories, along with the UN and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), pledged in January to create an insurance industry guide to protect the planet’s most special places through risk management, insurance and investment activities.

How can insurers help? By:

  • Understanding the best practices for the protection of heritage sites.
  • Raising awareness of such sites and supporting action to protect them by engaging with clients, business partners, governments, regulators and the society at large on relevant issues.
  • Protecting sites through risk management services, insurance products and investments.
  • Developing and implementing policies and processes that prevent or reduce the risk of insuring and investing in companies or projects whose activities could damage heritage sites.
  • Engaging with companies that they insure and invest in to improve disclosure of any activity that could damage sites, and promoting practices that protect these places.

“At Allianz, when we set up our ESG (environment, social and governance) screening process in 2013, protected sites and species were a major concern for us,” says James Wallace, who leads ESG integration in insurance at Allianz SE. “Signing up for the PSI commitment to protect world heritage sites was a logical step. It built on our ESG screening approach that was already in place and on risks we were already vigilant about.”

Participating in the PSI is enabling Allianz to work with the WWF and UNESCO to benefit from their insights and data on protected sites. This gives the insurer early warning on developments which might be of concern to the public.

The earliest steps they may be, but it’s clear that insurers can play a major role in shaping the future of heritage sites by providing a bridge between industry and the protectors of the environment.

Respecting our heritage and keeping it alive might just be a question of finding the right balance between our needs and those of the planet. 

The Allianz Group is one of the world's leading insurers and asset managers with more than 92 million retail and corporate customers. Allianz customers benefit from a broad range of personal and corporate insurance services, ranging from property, life and health insurance to assistance services to credit insurance and global business insurance. Allianz is one of the world’s largest investors, managing around 673 billion euros on behalf of its insurance customers. Furthermore our asset managers PIMCO and Allianz Global Investors manage more than 1.4 trillion euros of third-party assets. Thanks to our systematic integration of ecological and social criteria in our business processes and investment decisions, we hold the leading position for insurers in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. In 2018, over 142,000 employees in more than 70 countries achieved total revenues of 131 billion euros and an operating profit of 11.5 billion euros for the group.

These assessments are, as always, subject to the disclaimer provided below.

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Anja Rechenberg
Allianz SE
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