Lending giant HSBC has reportedly suspended a senior banker after he dismissed climate change warnings as “unsubstantiated” and claimed central bankers have exaggerated global warming risks.
Stuart Kirk – head of responsible investing at HSBC – has been suspended while the bank carries out an internal investigation into a controversial presentation he made at an event in London last week, according to the Financial Times, which first reported the story.
The bank has come under pressure to sack Mr Kirk after he told a conference there is “always some nut job telling me about the end of the world” and showed slides stating that “unsubstantiated, shrill, partisan, self-serving, apocalyptic warnings are ALWAYS wrong”.
In the presentation, entitled “Why investors need not worry about climate risk”, he accused officials at the United Nations and the Bank of England of overstating the financial risks of climate change.
“Who cares if Miami is six metres underwater in 100 years? Amsterdam has been six metres underwater for ages and that’s a really nice place,” he told shocked attendees at the Financial Times’ Moral Money conference last Thursday.
HSBC chief executive Noel Quinn denounced the comments over the weekend, saying in a LinkedIn post that “they are inconsistent with HSBC’s strategy and do not reflect the views of the senior leadership of HSBC or HSBC Asset Management”.
He said: “I do not agree – at all – with the remarks made at last week’s FT Moral Money Summit.
“Our ambition is to be the leading bank supporting the global economy in the transition to net zero.
“We have a lot of work to do, and I am determined that our team won’t be distracted by last week’s comments,” Mr Quinn added.
Nicolas Moreau, chief executive of HSBC’s asset management division, also distanced himself from Mr Kirk’s comments.
He said in a statement last Friday that “the remarks made at the FT Moral Money event do not reflect the views of HSBC Asset Management nor HSBC Group in any way”.
But it is understood that the presentation theme had been agreed internally.
The bank has not yet issued a formal statement on the reported suspension of Mr Kirk and said it “cannot comment on individual employees”.
It is particularly embarrassing for HSBC, given it has been seeking to boost its green credentials, with investors recently voting to back a new climate pledge.
The group put the plans to vote at its annual general meeting after pressure from shareholders, including ShareAction, a group with more than 2.4 trillion US dollars (£1.7 trillion) invested in global assets.
Mr Kirk was appointed to head up HSBC’s responsible investing unit in July 2021 – a role that involves looking at the risks to investments of environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.
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