HSBC has suspended one of its top bankers over a climate change speech in which he said “who cares if Miami is underwater” and “crazy people always warn the end of the world”.
Stuart Kirk, the global head of responsible investing at HSBC Asset Management, made the inflammatory comments during a speech at a conference on Thursday.
Senior figures at HSBC, one of the world’s largest banks, have condemned his comments after they sparked a scandal.
This is despite the fact that the title of the presentation – “Why investors needn’t worry about climate risk” – was agreed two months in advance and published online ahead of the event.
The topic, content and slides of the presentation have also been agreed internally, sources told the Financial Times.
Stuart Kirk is the Global Head of Responsible Investing at HSBC Asset Management. He said “crazy people” always predicted the “end of the world.”
He added: “Who cares if Miami will be twenty feet under water in 100 years? Amsterdam has been under six meters of water for ages and it’s a really beautiful place.” Pictured: Front Side Beach, Miami (file image)
Mr Kirk opened the speech saying: “Climate change is not a risk to worry about – heresy!”
He continued, “I feel like it’s getting a bit out of hand, the constant reminder that we’re doomed. The constant reminder that it will all be over in decades. It’s gotten so over the top that no one knows how to get people’s attention anymore.
“After 25 years in the financial industry, there is always some weirdo who tells me about the end of the world.
“But what bothers me about this thing is the amount of work these people are throwing at me, the amount of regulation coming down the pipes, the number of people on my team and at HSBC who are dealing with financial risks through the deal with climate change.”
As scientists have predicted, Miami will “cease to exist” in the next century.
Scientific studies have previously warned that Miami is at risk of being swamped by rising seas due to global warming.
Experts have already determined that if we do nothing to reduce fossil fuel burning by the year 2100, the planet will face a 14 to 32 foot (4.3 to 9.9 meter) rise in sea level, a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said.
The 2015 study then identified 414 US cities that were particularly at risk. Many could be saved if carbon emissions were drastically cut, but some — including Miami — are already doomed, it said.
“According to our analysis, many cities have a future that depends on our carbon choices, but some appear already doomed,” wrote lead author Ben Strauss, vice president of sea level and climate impacts at Climate Central.
“And it’s hard to imagine how we could defend Miami in the long run.”
Left-wing Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has gone further, hinting that Miami will cease to exist “in a few years” without radical action.
Mr Kirk suggested that many resources are focused on an issue that is “20 or 30 years later”.
“I work at a bank that is under crypto attack. We have regulators in the US trying to stop us. We have the China problem.
“We are facing a real estate crisis. We have rising interest rates.
“We have inflation in the pipes and I’m being told to spend time … looking at what’s going to happen in 20 or 30 years. With that, proportionality got completely out of hand.”
He added: “People have been fantastic at adapting to change and climate emergencies and we will continue to do so.
“Who cares if Miami will be twenty feet under water in 100 years? Amsterdam has been under six meters of water for ages and it’s a really beautiful place.
“I don’t doubt the science, but we have to adapt.”
HSBC says climate change is one of the most serious emergencies facing the planet, but Mr Kirk suggested it’s no big deal for the High Street Bank.
He explained: “For a big bank like ours, how do people rate the average loan life? It’s six years. What happens to the planet in the seventh year is actually irrelevant to our loan book. What happens in the seventh year is actually irrelevant to coal. Let’s come back to monetize the transition.’
He also took a look at former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, who previously said climate change will dwarf the cost of living.
“I fully understand that at the end of your central bank career, there are still many, many years to fill.
“You have to say something, you have to fly to conferences around the world, you have to overdo the next guy, but I feel like it’s getting a little bit out of hand,” Kirk said.
Mr. Kirk revealed this slide he produced “just to piss people off” to show how much the press has written about “climate catastrophe” that “risk” assets have continued to rise
He also took a look at former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, who previously said climate change will dwarf the cost of living
Mr Kirk argued that the financial risk of climate change was not significant and was far away
The Cambridge graduate has now been suspended pending an investigation, sources at HSBC told the FT.
Cambridge graduate who used to edit the FT’s Lex column
Mr. Kirk has been Global Head of Responsible Investing at HSBC for 11 months, having previously served as Global Head of Research and Insights.
He is a former editor of the FT’s Lex column. He also worked for Deutsche Bank, the asset management company DWS and the management consultancy Oliver Wyman.
Mr. KIrk earned an MA in Economics from Cambridge University, where he studied from 1992-1995.
Over the weekend, CEO Noel Quinn and Nuno Matos, head of wealth and private banking at HSBC, both tried to distance themselves from comments on social media posts.
“I agree – not at all – with the comments [this] Week’s FT Morale Money Summit,” Mr. Quinn wrote on LinkedIn.
‘They are not consistent with HSBC’s strategy and do not reflect the views of senior management at HSBC or HSBC Asset Management.
“We have a lot to do and I am determined that our team will not be distracted by last week’s comments.”
Mr Matos said: “In full agreement with Noel Quinn – the transition to net zero is of the utmost importance [sic] meaning to us and we will strive to help our customers along the way.’
While HSBC declined to say whether Kirk was at risk of losing his job as a result of the comments, the bank’s chief asset manager, Nicolas Moreau, said Kirk’s opinions “in no way reflect the views of HSBC Asset Management or the HSBC Group.”
He added: “HSBC recognizes climate change as one of the most serious emergencies facing the planet and is committed to supporting its clients in their transition to net zero and a sustainable future.”
Mr KIrk argued that humans are excellent at adapting to change and would also be able to adapt to climate change
A graph created by Mr. KIrk to argue that the risk of climate change will not become an issue for decades
Mr. Kirk is a former editor of the FT’s Lex column. He also worked for Deutsche Bank, the asset management company DWS and the management consultancy Oliver Wyman.
Activists are calling for his release.
“HSBC should call on Mr. Kirk to resign: his comments are inexcusable and completely disregard the impact of the climate crisis currently being felt in the Global South,” said Beau O’Sullivan, the bank’s lead activist for our future campaign.
“Unfortunately, he’s probably not the only bad apple within HSBC considering he funded climate destruction.”
The bank has not yet issued a formal statement regarding Mr. Kirk’s reported suspension and was not immediately available for comment.
It’s particularly embarrassing for HSBC, which has been trying to upgrade its green credentials, as investors recently voted in favor of a new climate pledge.
The group put the plans to a vote at its annual general meeting amid pressure from shareholders including ShareAction, a group with more than $2.4 trillion (£1.7 trillion) invested in global assets.
Mr. Kirk was appointed Head of HSBC’s Responsible Investment practice in July 2021 – a role that includes investigating the risks of investments related to environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.
HSBC has been contacted for comment.
He said: “People have been fantastic at adapting to change, adapting to climate emergencies, and we will continue to do so.”