HSBC is in damage-control mode after a senior executive said policymakers and central bankers had exaggerated the financial risk of climate change.
Stuart Kirk, the head of responsible investing for the bank’s asset management division, last week compared predictions about the negative effects of climate change to “Y2K” theories that a computer glitch would cause havoc at midnight on Jan. 1, 2000.
“There’s always some nut job telling me about the end of the world,” he said at a Financial Times conference in a presentation titled, “Why investors need not worry about climate risk.”
He added: “What bothers me about this one is the amount of work these people make me do. The amount of regulation coming down the pipes. The number of people in my team and at HSBC dealing with financial risk from climate change.”
Later in the speech, he said: “Who cares if Miami is six meters underwater in 100 years? Amsterdam has been six meters underwater for ages, and that’s a really nice place. We will cope with it.”
Noel Quinn, HSBC’s group chief executive, said in a post on LinkedIn over the weekend that he did not agree with Mr. Kirk’s comments. “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, adding, “We have a lot of work to do, and I am determined that our team won’t be distracted by last week’s comments.”
In a comment on the post, Nuno Matos, the chief executive of HSBC’s wealth and personal banking division, said he was “in complete agreement” with Mr. 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.”
A spokesman for HSBC said it could not comment on individual employees. The Financial Times reported that Mr. Kirk had been suspended, pending an internal investigation.
In Britain, where HSBC has its headquarters, the government has recently pushed banks and other financial firms to report how they will adapt their activities and investments to help the country meet its emission-reduction targets and establish it as a global hub for green finance.