HSBC has suspended its sustainable investing chief after he questioned the need for investors to worry about climate change and asked “who cares if Miami is six metres under water in 100 years?”
Stuart Kirk, global head of responsible investing at HSBC, told a conference on Thursday that central bankers were overstating climate risks in an attempt to “out-hyperbole the next guy”.
But bosses at HSBC were quick to condemn Kirk’s comments this weekend, with chief executive Noel Quinn and Nuno Matos, head of HSBC’s wealth and personal banking business, both claiming Kirk’s comments did not represent those of the firm.
Writing on LinkedIn this weekend, Quinn said he did not agree “at all” with the comments made by Kirk at the FT Moral Money Summit.
“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.
“We have a lot of work to do, and I am determined that our team won’t be distracted by last week’s comments.”
Matos said he “completely agreed” with Quinn’s condemnation, writing “the transition to net zero is of upmost [sic] importance to us and we will strive for ways to help our clients on this journey.”
HSBC was a “strategic partner” of the conference and bosses are believed to have signed off on the contents of Kirk’s speech ahead of time, the Financial Times reported.
Activists have piled pressure on HSBC to sack Kirk following his comments this week, and the bank has now suspended Kirk pending an internal investigation, according to sources cited by the Financial Times.
“HSBC should be asking Mr Kirk to resign: his comments are inexcusable and completely neglect the impacts of the climate crisis being felt by the global south right now,” Beau O’Sullivan, senior campaigner on the Bank on our Future campaign, said.
Activist group ShareAction said the comments from Kirk should raise “red flags” to any clients of HSBC that “care about net-zero”.