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HSBC boss attacks climate lobby and asks: 'Who cares if Miami is underwater in 100 years?'

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Hundred of people enjoy a warm day at the beach in Miami Beach, Florida - CRISTOBAL HERRERA/ Shutterstock
Hundred of people enjoy a warm day at the beach in Miami Beach, Florida - CRISTOBAL HERRERA/ Shutterstock

A HSBC banker in charge of responsible investing has been targeted by green activists after criticising the “apocalyptic” tone of the climate debate.

Stuart Kirk, the global head of responsible investments at HSBC Asset Management, said at a City event that throughout his 25-year career in finance “there was always some nut job telling me about the end of the world”.

In a slide accompanying his speech at the conference, hosted by the Financial Times, he added that “unsubstantiated, shrill, partisan, self-serving, apocalyptic warnings are ALWAYS wrong”.

Mr Kirk later said: “Who cares if Miami is six metres underwater in 100 years? Amsterdam has been six metres underwater for ages, and that’s a really nice place. We will cope with it.”

The comments are out of step with a finance industry that is increasingly keen to burnish its green credentials, and sparked an immediate backlash from campaigners who said Mr Kirk should be sacked.

Jeanne Martin, of investment campaign group ShareAction, said in a tweet that the comments should “raise red flags” to clients of HSBC’s asset management unit that care about net zero.

Beau O’Sullivan, a senior campaigner on the Bank on our Future campaign, added that climate change poses a “material risk to financial assets, which Kirk should be well aware of given his role in responsible investment”.

Nicolas Moreau, the chief executive of HSBC’s investing arm, said Mr Kirk's remarks do not reflect the views of the bank “in any way”.

Mr Kirk, who has been in his job for 11 months, said he was concerned that pressure from activists is forcing the bank to spend time and money on an issue which should be less of a priority.

He said: “What bothers me... 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 risks from climate change.

“I work at a bank that’s being attacked by crypto. We’ve got regulators in the US trying to stop us. We’ve got the China problem. We’ve got a housing crisis looming. We’ve got interest rates going up. We’ve got inflation coming down the pipes and I’m being told to spend time … looking at something that’s going to happen in 20 or 30 years.

“The proportionality is completely out of whack.”

HSBC, which is Europe's largest bank, last year dodged a backlash from major investors by pledging to phase out financing of coal-fired power by 2040.

Mr Moreau said: “HSBC regards climate change as one of the most serious emergencies facing the planet, and is committed to supporting its customers in their transition to net zero.”

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