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HSBC suspends banker over 'nut job' climate remarks

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Stuart Kirk hsbc - FT LIVE
Stuart Kirk hsbc - FT LIVE

HSBC has reportedly suspended a senior executive ahead of an internal investigation into a presentation he made that accused central bankers of overstating the financial risks of climate change.

Stuart Kirk, the global head of responsible investing at HSBC's asset management division, attacked climate “nut jobs” during the speech.

Britain's biggest bank had faced calls to sack Mr Kirk after he hit out at climate activists and asked “who cares if Miami is six metres underwater in 100 years?"

The bank was forced to distance itself from the comments after he played down climate risks. Mr Kirk told a conference: “there's always some nut job telling me about the end of the world”.

The decision to suspend the senior HSBC banker, which was reported by the Financial Times, comes after the Cabinet’s green champion had refused to condemn his comments earlier in the day.

Alok Sharma, president of Cop26, said HSBC is “committed to climate action” despite its responsible investment chief saying last week that global warming is “not a financial risk that we need to worry about”.

Speaking to The Telegraph in Davos, Mr Sharma also warned oil and gas companies must deliver detailed quarter-by-quarter investment plans or face the threat of a windfall tax after making “vague promises” despite huge profits

He refused to criticise “individuals in individual organisations” and backed HSBC’s response but said climate scepticism is “not the view that I find when I talk to financial services”.

Mr Sharma, who led last year’s climate talks in Glasgow, said it is “completely understandable” that countries ramp up fossil fuel production to bolster their energy security in the short-term after supplies were threatened in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Since last year’s Cop26, many countries have turned to dirty fuel sources, such as coal, to increase domestic energy supply with UK ministers deciding soon whether to back the opening of a coal mine in Cumbria.

“You’ve got to keep the lights on as a government, you need to make sure that factories continue to operate. That’s completely understandable,” Mr Sharma said.

“What is also vitally important is that governments don't take decisions that lock in emissions in the medium and long term.”

The surge in profits for oil and gas companies since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted the Prime Minister and Chancellor to consider a windfall tax to pay for cost of living support.

Mr Sharma waded into the Cabinet debate over a windfall tax after more ministers spoke out against the plans on Sunday.

He warned oil and gas firms to step up on their “vague promises” and deliver detailed quarter-by-quarter investment plans to avoid government action after making “huge, huge profits”.

Mr Sharma said: “They've talked about how much they might invest out to 2030. I think what we need to see is that near term detail, and we need to see those investment plans on a quarter by quarter basis.

“It’s a question of transparency and ultimately it’s also a question of fairness and I think the oil and gas majors have to respond to that.”

He added that the Government must “keep all options on the table” as the divide over the windfall tax in the Cabinet grows. Health secretary Sajid Javid said on Sunday he was “instinctively” opposed to a windfall tax.

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