Q&A with Butch Bacani, Programme Leader, UN Environment Programme’s Principles for Sustainable Insurance Initiative

In a nutshell, how would you describe the main role of the United Nations Principles for Sustainable Insurance?

The UN Principles for Sustainable Insurance (PSI) serve as a global framework for the insurance industry to address environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks and opportunities—and a global initiative to strengthen the insurance industry’s contribution as risk managers, insurers and investors to building resilient, inclusive and sustainable communities and economies on a healthy planet. Endorsed by the UN Secretary-General and insurance industry CEOs, the PSI was launched at the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) and has led to the largest collaborative initiative between the UN and the insurance industry.


What are the biggest challenges facing UN PSI today?

The biggest challenges facing the PSI today are the biggest sustainability challenges that the world is facing. The foundation of everything on this planet are a stable climate and a rich biodiversity of life. On both fronts, the weight of science is showing us that society’s collective performance has been woeful. This is why the Paris Agreement on Climate Change was forged in 2015 to limit global warming to no more than 1.5°C by the end of the century. This is also why a Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework will be adopted by the world’s governments next year to halt the rapid loss of biodiversity across the globe.

For the insurance industry, climate change, biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation present a wide range of socio-economic challenges. More frequent and severe weather is leading to more human tragedy, social inequality and economic losses worldwide. The destruction of life-supporting natural ecosystems and habitats is leading to more disaster-prone cities and communities, and zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19. As we transition to a net-zero emissions economy, carbon-intensive assets may lose value or be phased out, which could impact insurers’ investment and insurance portfolios.

Yet these are also a spectrum of new opportunities. They include insurance for and investments in zero and low-carbon technologies, infrastructure and transportation, as well as nature-based solutions and sustainable agriculture, and parametric insurance solutions for vulnerable communities, cities and countries.


How do UN PSI and IUMI work together?

The PSI and IUMI have already worked in a number of areas. For example, IUMI provided important input to the insurance industry guide developed by the PSI and Oceana to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing; as well as the first-ever global insurance industry guide to manage environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks developed by the PSI.  

After IUMI became a PSI supporting institution earlier this year, the PSI and IUMI co-organised a webinar on the PSI’s ESG guide, with a focus on marine insurance. This was followed by IUMI’s participation in a webinar by UNEP’s Sustainable Blue Economy Finance Initiative on insuring and investing in a sustainable ocean economy.

We look forward to more opportunities to work together with IUMI, particularly in the context of helping achieve the aims of the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


Is there anything that you would like to see underwriters do differently or better?

Marine insurance underwriters should continuously enhance their ESG knowledge and skills in order to overwrite unsustainable practices in the ocean economy and support the achievement of the SDGs. The ocean’s health and integrity are critical to providing oxygen, food and other resources; absorbing carbon emissions and heat; and building coastal resilience. However, it is under immense pressure from unsustainable development, including destructive fishing practices, carbon-intensive shipping, acidification and pollution.

IUMI can work together with the PSI in ensuring that the marine insurance industry’s risk management, insurance and investment activities promote a sustainable ocean economy—from shipping, fisheries and tourism; to aquaculture, energy, biotechnology and nature-based solutions for coastal protection and blue carbon.


Do you have a view on the current state of the marine insurance market? 

Modern-day insurance’s roots can be traced to the maritime industry, and the insurance industry’s relationship with the ocean economy continues to evolve. I think that marine insurers have an unprecedented opportunity to innovate and be a driving force for sustainability by ensuring that companies and industries that make up the 21st century ocean economy contribute to economic, social and environmental sustainability—in other words, sustainable development.


If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing in the shipping industry what would it be?

A zero-carbon, zero-pollution, zero-IUU-fishing and zero-vulnerability shipping industry with one wave of the magic wand.


If you were not in your current role what would be your ideal job?

A conservation diver protecting the world’s amazing coral reefs, which is also the perfect job to detox, slow down and be reconnected with nature.


What do you like doing when not working?  

Spending quality time with my partner, daughter and family is first and foremost. I enjoy scuba diving in tropical waters, swimming in lakes, and walking and cycling in nature. Trying out different cuisines, cooking, reading, listening to music and shooting some hoops are great ways for me to unwind. But the line between work and life for me is blurry since, ultimately, sustainability is about improving the quality of life. So either way, the bottom line is sustainability.