HSBC Asset Management’s Global Head of Responsible Investment Stuart Kirk announced today that he has resigned from his position, several weeks after sparking controversy with remarks at a Financial Times conference downplaying the seriousness of climate risk to the financial system and to society.

In a LinkedIn post today, Kirk wrote:

“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.”

The comments were made in his conference presentation, entitled “Why Investors Need Not Worry About Climate Risk,” where Kirk suggested that more of a focus should be made on directing capital to climate adaptation rather than climate mitigation. 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.”

In his presentation 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.

Following the presentation, HSBC CEO Noel Quinn sharply condemned the comments, stating that they were “inconsistent with HSBC’s strategy and do not reflect the views of the senior leadership of HSBC or HSBC Asset Management.”

In his post today, Kirk wrote:

“Investing is hard. So is saving our planet. Opinions on both differ. But humanity’s best chance of success is open and honest debate. If companies believe in diversity and speaking up, they need to walk the talk. A cancel culture destroys wealth and progress.”

Kirk added that he is currently working on assembling a team to pursue “what is arguably the greatest sustainable investment idea ever conceived,” with plans to unveil a new project this year that “will underline the central argument in my speech: that human ingenuity can and will overcome the challenges ahead, while at the same time offering huge investment opportunities.”

Click here to view Kirk’s post.

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