Stuart Kirk clearly misread the crowd. He did a public presentation at an event called Moral Money, where he said everything you can imagine a Head of Responsible Investment for HSBC shouldn’t say about climate. Here are some of his greatest hits:

  • “Who cares if Miami is six metres under water in 100 years?” – we do Stuart, you psychopath. And so do the millions of people who live there. Miami is one of the many places that could be uninhabitable soon due to climate change. That means lives.
  • “There’s always some nut job telling me about the end of the world.” and “Unsubstantiated, shrill, partisan, self-serving, apocalyptic warnings are ALWAYS wrong” – Well Stuart, here are some groups warning us about climate change that I wouldn’t define as ‘nut jobs’ or ‘shrill’: the Head of the UN; world leaders and the climate refugees currently leaving their homes due to wildfires and floods. Oh and the thousands of climate scientists at the IPCC.
  • He said that climate change wasn’t that important because it’s “going to happen in 20 or 30 years”. Wrong again Stu. Californian wildfires are happening now, and getting more and more out of control. India and Pakistan are experiencing record temperatures of up to 50C, with scientists saying it was ‘made 30 times more likely by climate change’. And there are global food shortages exacerbated by climate change.

The story gets wilder. But it’s first important to know a bit of context.

HSBC is the biggest funder in Europe of NEW fossil fuels. That means more oil rigs, more gas fields and more climate change. They lend billions of dollars a year to some of the worst fossil fuel companies in the world. Including the actual #1 worst in the world, Saudi Aramco – the national oil company of Saudi Arabia. HSBC desperately don’t want people knowing about this. So they put out lots of adverts to pretend they’re green. Last month, they even got told off for their greenwashing.

That’s why HSBC quickly suspended Stuart Kirk after he made his comments. And predictably, they tried to pretend he was a lone maniac (that got promoted to a senior position over years at HSBC). HSBC’s CEO Noel Quinn immediately said that Kirk’s disregard for climate risks don’t represent HSBC’s strategy, *cough cough, Saudi Aramco, cough, cough*. It even came out that Stuart Kirk’s presentation had been signed off for months. So clearly lots of people knew about it. Oh dear.

The kickback

Kirk’s comments are creating quite a kickback. First, the headlines started. Papers across the world covered it, including the BBC, the FT, and Reuters. Swiftly followed by a group of green orgs sending a letter to HSBC’s CEO Noel Quinn, explaining that Kirk’s views cannot be unique at the bank, and calling for HSBC to release a proper oil and gas exclusion policy later this year.

But there wasn’t just external pressure. One of HSBC’s major shareholders also aired concerns with HSBC over Kirk’s comments, and how they reflect HSBC’s see-through climate strategy:

There are even reports of staff raising concerns at an all-staff meeting soon after Kirk’s comments.

Stuart Kirk is not an outlier. He’s perfectly representative of a bank pouring billions of dollars into fossil fuels. This is the mask slipping. This is what the real HSBC looks like. We won’t let this slide, HSBC are under serious pressure to stop funding fossil fuels. And they now know that all eyes are on them.