HSBC CEO Noel Quinn has sharply condemned comments made last week by HSBC Asset Management’s Global Head of Responsible Investment Stuart Kirk last week downplaying the seriousness of climate risk to the financial system and to society generally. Quinn said that “I do not agree – at all – with the remarks.”

The comments were made in a presentation given by Kirk at the Financial Times (FT) Moral Money Europe Summit, which he entitled “Why Investors Need Not Worry About Climate Risk.” Saying that he takes “a very very financial and investment view of the topic,” Kirk decried the practice of central bankers to “out-hyperbole the next guy” in raising concerns about the long-term implications of climate risk, and urged central banks to spend more time focusing on inflation and growth, and less time on climate. Comparing climate risk to hyperbole on past risk issues such as Y2K, Kirk said “25 years in the financial industry, there’s always some nut job telling me about the end of the world.”

Kirk also downplayed the effects of climate risk on financial growth, indicating that long-term economic growth would make the effects less relevant to overall wealth, and noting that from an investment perspective, the long-term implications of climate risk were beyond the market’s investment horizon. Noting that HSBC’s average loan length is 6 years, Kirk stated, “what happens to the planet in year 7 is actually irrelevant to our loan book.

In a LinkedIn post (see full post below) stating HSBC’s disagreement to the remarks, Quinn stated that that the comments were “inconsistent with HSBC’s strategy and do not reflect the views of the senior leadership of HSBC or HSBC Asset Management.” Quinn added:

“Our ambition is to be the leading bank supporting the global economy in the transition to net zero. 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.”

Kirk was appointed to lead HSBC AM’s Responsible Investment team last year, heading the team responsible for the integration of ESG risks and opportunities across asset classes, and the firm’s voting policy and engagement initiatives.

 According to a report from FT, Kirk has been suspended from his position.