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Stuart Kirk, HSBC Asset Management’s (HSBC AM) global head of responsible investing has raised eyebrows following a speech at a Financial Times event. At the Moral Money gathering, hosted on May 19, he compared the climate crisis to the Y2K bug before stating that investors don’t need to worry about climate change.
Kirk doubled down on his analogy, stating that during his career, there had perpetually been “some nutjob telling me about the end of the world. What bothers me about this one is the amount of work these people make me do.” The controversial statements were made during his Why investors need not worry about climate risk speech.
‘Who cares if Miami is six metres underwater in 100 years?’
This was one of Kirk’s questions to the audience. He continued to say that Amsterdam is already in such a predicament but remains a “really nice place” and that “we will cope with it”. Such comments have been deemed as insensitive, at best, given global heatwaves and floods that have been confirmed as worsening due to climate change.
Observers might have assumed that the HSBC AM head was outing himself as a climate change denier, but no. The emphatic speaker made it clear that he believes in the science surrounding climate change and that he knows there “will be fires”, but that these can be tackled with ‘adaption’.
This last element led neatly into a short tirade about what he sees as HSBC’s failings. Kirk called into question how much climate change really impacts a big financial institution, citing the irreversible consequences as irrelevant to the day-to-day running of the business.
“At a big bank like ours, what do people think the average loan length is?” he asked his audience. “It is six years. What happens to the planet in year seven is actually irrelevant to our loan book. For coal, what happens in year seven is actually irrelevant.”
Calling out industry peers
Mark Carney, ex-governor of the Bank of England, came under fire from Kirk for what he viewed as Carney ‘raising the alarm’ in the climate crisis, from the perspective of the financial services sector. The ex-governor once claimed that the effects of the climate crisis will overshadow the cost of living crisis substantially. Kirk used a direct quote on a presentation slide, declaring that “unsubstantiated, shrill, partisan, self-serving, apocalyptic warnings are ALWAYS wrong”.
Taking things a step further, Kirk revealed that he views financial professionals that are aligning with climate issues as simply filling their time ahead of retirement and trying to stay relevant. He spoke of people looking to “out-hyperbole the next guy” and central banks skewing figures to push their own climate-aligned agendas.
Carney, for his part, is now a special envoy for climate action with the United Nations. He is a respected and candid voice within the financial sector, calling for a move away from coal, oil and gas as key investments and fuel sources.
HSBC and the climate
Following Kirk’s explosive speech, HSBC AM has sought to distance itself from comments made. CEO Nicolas Moreau released a statement that the remarks made at the Moral Money event “do not reflect the views of HSBC Asset Management nor HSBC Group in any way”.
“HSBC Asset Management is committed to driving the transition to a sustainable global economy and has a fiduciary responsibility to ensure its clients’ monies are managed for positive long-term environmental and social outcomes,” Moreau told Investment Week. “HSBC regards climate change as one of the most serious emergencies facing the planet, and is committed to supporting its customers in their transition to net zero and a sustainable future and, like HSBC Asset Management, is committed to achieving net zero by 2050.”
Kirk has since been suspended from his role while an internal investigation is carried out.
Earlier this month, HSBC was named as being at risk of a caution from the Advertising Standards Authority. The watchdog is considering issuing a warning to the financial institution over “misleading” adverts that appear to exaggerate the climate action it is taking. Two bus stop posters are at the centre of the controversy. Both talk about the activities being undertaken by HSBC to lessen climate change consequences, while withholding emissions data for the company itself. If a caution is given, it will be the first time a major bank has been exposed for inconsistent environmental claims.
Lead photo of Stuart Kirk.