Shareholders push HSBC to cut exposure to fossil fuels

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HSBC could be forced to slash its exposure to fossil fuels – starting with coal – from next year, after an influential group of investors filed a shareholder vote urging the bank to ramp up its climate commitments.

Fifteen pension and investment funds are pushing HSBC to reduce the loans and underwriting services offered to clients which rely heavily on fossil fuels within a timeline consistent with Paris climate goals.

The resolution – which has been coordinated by campaign group ShareAction and is also backed by 117 individual shareholders – is the second climate vote filed at a major UK bank, following a similar resolution tabled at Barclays’ AGM last year.

It will be put to shareholders at HSBC’s AGM in April, and will becoming binding if 75% vote in its favour.

HSBC is Europe’s second-largest financier of fossil fuels after Barclays, according to the Rainforest Action Network (RAN). It says the bank has provided at least $87bn (GBP64bn) to some of the world’s largest fossil fuel firms since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2016.

In October, HSBC pledged to shrink its carbon footprint to net zero by 2050 at the latest, and committed up to $1tn in green financing to clients transitioning to more environmentally friendly operations.

However, the bank’s climate plan does not involve turning away clients or cancelling contracts based on their fossil fuel exposure. HSBC has also stopped short of introducing a blanket ban on financing coal power.

“Net zero ambitions by top fossil fuel financiers are simply not credible if they fail to be backed up by fossil fuel phase out plans,” said ShareAction’s senior campaign manager, Jeanne Martin.

“Five years after the Paris agreement was signed, HSBC continues to pour billions into the coal sector, a behaviour that is at odds with limiting global warming to 1.5C. If HSBC is serious about its net zero ambition, it will support this resolution.”

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The resolution has been filed by firms including Rathbone Investment Management, Man Group, Sarasin & Partners, and Europe’s largest asset manager, Amundi.

ShareAction will not disclosed the co-filers’ combined stake in the bank. But the campaign group is approaching other institutional investors.

HSBC has not confirmed whether it will support or oppose the resolution. In a statement, it said it was “strongly committed” to addressing climate change: “We are a leader in sustainable finance and expect to provide between $750bn and $1tn in finance by 2030 to support our customers in all sectors to progressively decarbonise. As we work to set out the detail of our roadmap to net zero, we continue to positively engage with our customers, shareholders and ShareAction.”

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