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HSBC's head of responsible investing quits after climate speech controversy

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HSBC branch in Hong Kong
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LONDON (Reuters) -Stuart Kirk, the global head of responsible investing at HSBC Asset Management, has resigned from his role, according to a post attributed to him on professional networking site LinkedIn on Thursday.

Kirk was suspended by HSBC in May after he said central bank policymakers and other global authorities had exaggerated the financial risks of climate change at an industry conference.

The bank, which has committed to playing a major role in leading the global economy in the transition to net zero, declined to comment on Kirk's post on Thursday.

It was unclear whether an internal investigation launched by the bank into Kirk's comments was completed prior to Kirk's LinkedIn post.

"Ironically given my job title, I have concluded that the bank's behaviour towards me since my speech at a Financial Times conference in May has made my position, well, unsustainable," Kirk said.

Kirk's comments and suspension sparked fierce debate around the value of investment based on environmental, social and governance principles.

His remarks led one large institutional investor to reconsider whether to employ HSBC for a sustainability role and prompted Britain's pensions regulator to remind pensions schemes of the investment risks from climate change.

HSBC 'COMMITTED TO A NET ZERO FUTURE'

HSBC CEO Noel Quinn also used a LinkedIn post in May to distance the bank and its senior leadership team from Kirk's remarks.

"I hope my colleagues, customers and others will all know, from our work and my public comments, that HSBC is absolutely committed to a net zero future," he said at the time.

But Kirk's comments have also generated a debate around freedom of speech.

"Investing is hard. So is saving our planet. Opinions on both differ. But humanity’s best chance of success is open and honest debate", Kirk said in Thursday's post.

"If companies believe in diversity and speaking up, they need to walk the talk. A cancel culture destroys wealth and progress."

Kirk said he was now preparing a new venture that will demonstrate "human ingenuity can and will overcome the challenges ahead, while at the same time offering huge investment opportunities".

In the meantime, he said he would continue to challenge the "nonsense, hypocrisy, sloppy logic and group-think" that had sullied the world of sustainable finance, the post read.

Kirk did not respond immediately to a request for comment by Reuters via LinkedIn.

(Reporting by Sinead Cruise and Carolyn CohnEditing by Bernadette Baum)

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