Banking giant HSBC has reportedly suspended a senior banker after he dismissed climate change warnings as “unsubstantiated” and accused bankers of overstating global warming risks.
Stuart Kirk, a responsible investing lead, said in a presentation on Thursday: “There’s always some nut job telling me about the end of the world.”
He showed slides stating that “unsubstantiated, shrill, partisan, self-serving, apocalyptic warnings are ALWAYS wrong”.
Mr Kirk, head of responsible investing for HSBC Asset Management, has now been suspended while the bank investigates the comments, according to the Financial Times, which first reported the story.
HSBC declined to comment on reports of his suspension.
It came under pressure to sack Mr Kirk over his presentation titled “Why investors need not worry about climate risk,” in which he accused the United Nations and the Bank of England of exaggerating 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,” Mr Kirk had told an audience at the Financial Times’ Moral Money conference last Thursday.
His role involves considering the impact of investments on environmental, social and governance issues.
HSBC chief executive Noel Quinn denounced the comments, saying in a LinkedIn post at the weekend that “they are inconsistent with HSBC’s strategy and do not reflect the views of the senior leadership of HSBC or HSBC Asset Management”.
“I do not agree – at all – with the remarks,” he said.
He added: “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.”
But it is understood that the presentation theme had internally been agreed in advance.
Beau O’Sullivan, a Bank on our Future campaigner said “this opens up a new can of worms for HSBC”.
He added: “The bank must now explain how such offensive and inaccurate comments were signed off, to what extent other senior execs share Kirk’s views, and what sort of culture HSBC is breeding that allowed the comments to pass unchallenged.”
There may be other employees with similar views “in the woodwork, given the bank’s level of fossil fuel financing,” he said.
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