HSBC under fire over health impact of coal investments

LONDON (AFP) – Bank giant HSBC risks dangerous health fallout from investments in companies who plan to build new coal power plants, an environmental think-tank warned in a report on Wednesday.

HSBC’s asset management arm owns stakes in firms looking to build at least 73 coal-fired stations, the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) said in a report using recent data from climate activist group Market Forces.

Air pollution from those proposed plants will contribute towards the deaths of around 18,700 people per year, the CREA estimated.

That will also spark the hospitalisation of tens of thousands due to asthma, premature births and other health problems, it added.

HSBC, which is seeking to phase out the financing of the coal industry over the next two decades to help tackle climate change, insisted, however, that its asset management arm does not invest directly in coal.

The lender said a minimal proportion of its funds tracked the components of indices that may include coal companies.

People walk past an HSBC branch in Central London. PHOTO: AFP

HSBC also appears on share registers when it has a custodial relationship, whereby it holds paperwork on behalf of clients.

“HSBC Global Asset Management does not invest on behalf of its clients or on its own account directly in projects for coal-fired power plants or coal mining-related infrastructure,” a spokesperson told AFP.

“In line with our commitment to the Paris Agreement, HSBC Global Asset Management has a policy on responsible investment.

“We prioritise high carbon sectors for early engagement and action to improve governance, targets, and disclosure of climate risk.”

The report was published one week after campaign group Reclaim Finance slammed Britain’s biggest banks for their “hollow” carbon-reduction pledges when they remain key financiers of coal.

Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, NatWest and Standard Chartered provided a total of USD56 billion to coal firms over two years to late 2020, according to Reclaim Finance.

London is the third biggest coal finance hub after New York and Tokyo, according to the report which used earnings and other publically available information.

Britain’s government, which will host United Nations (UN) global climate change summit COP26 in Glasgow in November, has vowed to hit net zero carbon emissions by 2050 to help meet its commitments under the landmark 2015 Paris climate accord.