The boss is forced to take the knockout blow: “I do not agree, I do not agree at all with the comments made last week,” writes Noel Quinn, director of HSBC, one of the world’s largest banks.

The comments did not represent the bank’s strategy or the views of its leadership. “I am determined that our team will not be distracted by last week’s comments,” said Quinn.

The reason for the harsh distancing is the speech by a leading investment manager at his bank, Stuart Kirk, at a conference last Thursday. “There’s always some crazy person telling me about the end of the world,” Kirk opened his speech and then explained why investors needn’t worry about climate change: it is negligible when assessing economic development.

After the lecture became public knowledge, thousands protested on social media, some calling for his dismissal. “Fire Kirk,” tweeted former UN Climate Change chief Christiana Figueres. So it happened, HSBC has now fired Kirk, reports the Financial Times. According to the newspaper, Kirk’s lecture had previously been approved internally.

Scientists, on the other hand, react well-intentioned to Kirk’s speech. “I applaud him for having the courage to say what 98 percent of people in finance are thinking,” said Sony Kapoor, a climate economist at the European University Institute.

The banker “got into trouble for taking economic scenarios and damage forecasts from the UN Climate Change Board literally and expanding them to their logical conclusions,” says Matthew Burgess, an environmental scientist at the University of Colorado.

One could blame Kirk for his choice of words, says Roger Pielke Junior, a climate researcher at the University of Colorado. For example, Kirk said, “Who cares if Miami is twenty feet under water in a hundred years?” to point out that parts of Amsterdam are twenty feet below sea level, but the city is a “beautiful place.” Dikes keep the sea out.

Anyone who is even a little familiar with the climate debate would know that such formulations represent an affront, writes Pielke.

In terms of content, however, Kirk addressed important issues, such as the many exaggerations that were circulating about the consequences of climate change. His central point about the economic consequences of global warming refers to an important phenomenon: the climate-economy paradox.

Even the most pessimistic scenarios of the world climate board show massive economic growth until the end of the century. With several hundred percent growth expected over the coming decades, the scenarios say that the few percent by which warming could slow growth is negligible. Even in the worst climate scenario, today’s developing countries would be richer by the end of the century than the richest countries today, Pielke confirms.

HSBC banker Kirk showed corresponding graphics in his presentation. “He identified the paradox that comes straight from the UN Climate Change Council,” explains Pielke. Climate change is often presented as one of the greatest financial risks. “But when you look at the UN Climate Change Board’s projections, even the most pessimistic scenarios paint a future of incredible global and individual wealth.”

It is also paradoxical that the climate research models calculate extreme economic growth, but at the same time postulate that some regions are uninhabitable due to the heat. The economic reality, however, is “that with most methods used to predict future climate change, the associated impacts are generally small,” writes Pielke.

In fact, Matthew Burgess argues that both damage projections and growth scenarios, as well as “our ability to have nuanced public discussions on these issues,” need to be reconsidered. It is “completely understandable and reasonable that an expert on global finance addresses the issue,” says his colleague Pielke.

Climate change does not form a solid basis for investment decisions, Kirk concluded in his presentation. As luck would have it, just the week of his speech, the Network For Greening the Financial System released results of a survey of financial institutions and credit rating agencies that found a lack of evidence of differences between green and non-green investing.

Kirk accused banks of wanting to provoke investments with unrealistic extreme climate scenarios. Pielke confirms such misuse of scenarios. Silencing uncomfortable statements will not make the problems go away. In climate science, however, political loyalty often takes precedence over intellectual substance.

The banker’s sacking is the latest example of people “fighting with the climate lobby and suffering professional repercussions as a result.” After this incident, who, Pielke asks, would dare to raise legitimate doubts about the methods and results on the effects of climate change?

HSBC has yet to officially confirm Kirk’s dismissal. A spokesman quoted one of the bank’s managing directors, Nicolas Moreau, as saying that climate change was “one of the most serious emergencies facing the planet”.

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