Pensions watchdog warns about climate risk in rebuke of HSBC banker who downplayed danger

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Union Jack flags fly in the wind in front of the Parliament at Westminster bridge, in London, Britain, January 29, 2022. REUTERS/May James

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  • HSBC banker said financial risks of climate change overdone
  • Regulator reaffirms 'systemic' importance of climate change
  • HSBC banker suspended following remarks - sources

LONDON, May 23 (Reuters) - UK pension schemes should not ignore climate change, a senior executive at The Pensions Regulator said on Monday, the first watchdog to weigh in after a top HSBC banker was suspended after playing down the financial risks of climate change.

Regulators across the world have been putting pressure on the financial services industry to take climate change into account when calculating risks to their business models.

Stuart Kirk, a senior HSBC banker in charge of sustainable investments, had said at an industry event last week that central bank policymakers and other global authorities were exaggerating the financial risks of climate change. read more

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The bank has since suspended him pending an internal investigation, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Monday.

HSBC's Chief Executive Noel Quinn has since disowned Kirk's remarks, saying they were inconsistent with the bank's strategy. read more

Kirk did not respond to requests for comment on social media over the weekend or on Monday.

“We believe any scheme that does not consider climate change is ignoring a major risk to pension savings and missing out on investment opportunities," said David Fairs, the regulator's executive director for Regulatory Policy, Analysis and Advice.

“Climate change is systemically important to pension schemes and to our role as a regulator," he added in an emailed statement.

The regulator supervises the 2.5 trillion pound ($3.1 trillion) UK pension fund sector, a major investor in the UK economy, in which larger schemes are facing new UK climate governance and reporting requirements.

Pension trustees should look at how climate change is affecting asset prices and employers' financial strength, Fairs said.

The Bank of England will this week publish climate stress test results in aggregate for banks and insurers.

Activists, meanwhile, said HSBC still had questions to answer.

"The bank must now explain how such offensive and inaccurate comments were signed off, to what extent other senior execs share Kirk's views, and what sort of culture HSBC is breeding that allowed the comments to pass unchallenged," said Beau O'Sullivan, senior campaigner on the Bank on our Future campaign.

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Reporting by Carolyn Cohn and Lawrence White, additional reporting by Simon Jessop Editing by Jan Harvey and Mark Potter

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