Voices: How one suspended HSBC executive admitted the chilling truth behind greenwashing

·4-min read
This evoked the ultimate left-wing caricature of evil, scruples-free capitalism (AFP/Getty)
This evoked the ultimate left-wing caricature of evil, scruples-free capitalism (AFP/Getty)

Climate protectors around the world owe Stuart Kirk, the suspended head of “Responsible Investment” at HSBC Asset Management, a huge thank you.

In an extraordinary speech to the Moral Money Conference, organised by the FT a few weeks ago, he admitted the chilling truth behind greenwashing. He declared HSBC’s “commitment” to net-zero carbon emissions in 2050, while simultaneously pouring billions into expanding fossil fuel infrastructure. His speech on Youtube is a must see.

For me this evoked the ultimate left-wing caricature of evil, scruples-free capitalism.

Kirk complained that “unsubstantiated, shrill, partisan, self-serving apocalyptic warnings were always wrong”, citing the Millenium bug crisis as an example. He declared that despite all the dire warnings, nothing happened, conveniently ignoring the decade-long global work and billions of investment to stop the crisis.

Stuart Kirk whined that “there is always some nutjob telling me about the end of the world,” and went on to say at one point: “Who cares if Miami is 6 feet underwater in 100 years? Amsterdam has been for years and it’s a really nice place.”

He dismissed the destruction from California wildfires as just a 1 per cent cost of the state budget. He asserted there was no extra financial benefit from investing in renewable energy over coal, and dismissed the threat of stranded financial assets if governments actually acted on carbon emissions.

As he chillingly put it “At a big bank like ours, the average loan term is 6 years. What happens to the planet in year 7 is actually irrelevant. I don’t care.

Kirk thus provides clear evidence for the infuriated UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s accusation that our governments and businesses are disastrously lying to us on climate action.

HSBC, despite its “commitment” to net-zero, invested $130 billion in fossil fuels since the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2016, according to a RAN report. Their 2021 investment of $19.9 billion, was exactly the same as the $19.9 billion in 2016.

I asked HSBC some questions.

Were any executives who publicly dissociated themselves from Kirk’s remarks, among those who signed off on the presentation? Which HSBC executives were on Kirk’s appointment panel? Was Kirk appointed because he held views opposed to reducing coal and fossil fuel investments?

Don’t HSBC investments of $130 billion since 2016 not demonstrate that Kirk was telling the truth, and that HSBC CEO Noel Quinn was dissembling when he dissociated himself with Kirk’s remarks?

They refused to answer my specific questions.

But they sent a response back saying: “The remarks made do not reflect the views of HSBC Asset Management nor HSBC Group in any way. HSBC regards climate change as one of the most serious emergencies facing the planet, and is committed to achieving net zero by 2050.”

As Kirk specifically attacked Mark Carney, the founder of GFANZ, the UN climate banking initiative, I also asked GFANZ:

The fact that HSBC invested the same in fossil fuels in 2021 as it did in 2016, indicates HSBC’s de facto actions more likely reflect Kirk’s presentation. Therefore, does HSBC’s presence on the GFANZ Board of Principals not make a mockery of the project?”

They responded by saying: “HSBC’s strategy and Mr Kirk’s remarks are a matter for HSBC. It would be inappropriate to comment, given the ongoing disciplinary process.”

Just Stop Oil, hundreds of whose climate protectors have been arrested calling for a ban on new fossil fuels, told us that : “Why does he [Kirk] think NASA scientists are freaking out? No previous market trends, no agricultural yields, no fire or flood event can be used as a yardstick for what is coming down the line”.

Kirk’s speech is a siren call to move our bank accounts away from banks funding fossil fuelled destruction, as an urgent moral imperative.

But individual action is not enough. Demand that your local council, and any businesses or charities that you are connected with, do likewise. Last week, I persuaded a foundation to move its £45 million reserves away from HSBC, following the RAN report on their fossil investments.

Who could you persuade to move their bank accounts this year?

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