UPDATE: HSBC suspended Stuart Kirk after this story was published.
A senior executive at the HSBC bank is being roasted for his claim that central banks and other global authorities are overstating the financial risks of the climate emergency—and his employer is distancing itself from his remarks.
“Unsubstantiated, shrill, partisan, self-serving, apocalyptic warnings are ALWAYS wrong,” wrote Stuart Kirk, the bank’s head of responsible investing, in a conference presentation slide that showed climate warnings from the United Nations and the Bank of England.
“We’ve got inflation coming down the pipes and I’m being told to spend time and time again looking at something that’s going to happen in 20 or 30 years,” he told conference participants. “The proportionality is completely out of whack.”
HSBC disavowed Kirk’s statement, saying his views “did not reflect those of HSBC as a whole,” Reuters reports.
“HSBC regards climate change as one of the most serious emergencies facing the planet,” Nicolas Moreau, CEO of HSBC Asset Management, told the news agency, in an email conveyed by a spokesperson.
Climate campaigners were quick to respond.
“These comments are shocking and misinformed, but Kirk’s candour arguably cuts through the usual greenwashing PR and indicates the kind of conversations and thinking that is really going on behind the scenes in the financial sector with regards to the climate crisis,” Veronica Oakeshott, head of forests policy and advocacy at Global Witness, said in a release.
“The fact that this comes from the Global Head of Responsible Investing of all people makes me shudder to think what is going on in other parts of the business.”
Oakeshott stressed that the story “is not just about one bad apple executive” in a sector that “continues bankrolling deforestation, fossil fuels, and climate breakdown.” She said HSBC has financed fossil fuel operations worth US$110.7 billion since 2016 and supported deforestation deals estimated at $6.8 billion.
“Kirk’s comments are yet another urgent reminder that we cannot rely on the goodwill of financial institutions to voluntarily do the right thing,” she added. “We need governments to introduce legislation that makes it illegal for banks and asset managers to continue backing climate-wrecking companies.”
Jeanne Martin, campaign manager at responsible investment NGO Share Action, tweeted that Kirk’s comments “should raise red flags to any clients of HSBC that care about net-zero.” Bank on our Future senior campaigner Beau O’Sullivan stressed the material risk that climate change poses to financial assets, calling the comments “regressive and grossly flawed”.