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Top bank chiefs unimpressed after banker gives speech about ‘nut job’ climate change doom-mongers

May 23, 2022, 2:25 PM UTC

Heads of British banking giant HSBC are backing away from one of its global leaders after a controversial speech where he proclaimed that climate change was not a financial risk.

Stuart Kirk, global head of responsible investments, gave his presentation titled “why investors need not worry about climate risk” at the Financial Times Moral Money Summit on Friday, where he said bankers and policymakers were overstating the impact of climate change in a bid to “out-hyperbole the next guy”.

The comments came along with a deck slide that read: “Unsubstantiated, shrill, partisan, self-serving, apocalyptic warnings are ALWAYS wrong.”

Kirk added in his speech: “I feel like it’s getting a little bit out of hand. The constant reminder we are doomed.

“After 25 years in the finance industry, there was always some nut job telling me about the end of the world.”

He also compared the climate crisis to the Y2K bug that expected a computer glitch to bring down global infrastructure at the turn of the millennium.

But his employer is now moving to distance themselves from his comments, despite signing off on the presentation two months before it took place, according to the Financial Times.

The bank has reportedly suspended Kirk and launched an internal investigation, while other leaders of the financial institution have gone online to denounce his presentation.

HSBC CEO Quinn said in a post on Linkedin he did not agree “at all” with Kirk’s comments at the conference, adding: “They are inconsistent with HSBC’s strategy and do not reflect the views of the senior leadership of HSBC or HSBC Asset Management.”

Two HSBC higher-ups commented on Quinn’s post saying they agreed.

Nuno Matos, head of HSBC’s wealth and personal banking business, said: “In complete agreement with Noel Quinn — the transition to net-zero is of utmost importance to us and we will strive for ways to help our clients on this journey.”

Surendra Rosha, co-CEO of HSBC Asia Pacific, added: “Sustainability is an imperative for us.”

Celine Herweijer, HSBC’s chief sustainability officer, told Bloomberg at the ESG summit in London that Kirk’s comments are “absolutely not the company’s view.”

“It’s an individual’s comments completely unaligned with the company,” she continued.

A new can of worms for HSBC

But some critics are having trouble believing Kirk’s comments are that far removed from HSBC’s strategy.

The bank is the 13th-biggest funder of fossil fuels in the world, according to Market Forces, with around $130 billion currently invested in fossil fuel projects, plus equity stakes in 19 of the 32 listed companies on the world’s top 100 developers of new coal power stations.

“Kirk might be on his way out, but this opens up a new can of worms for HSBC,” said Beau O’Sullivan, a senior campaigner for the Bank on our Future campaign in a note.

“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,” he said.

An HSBC spokesperson told Fortune “it would not comment on individual employee situations.”

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