The global economy is vulnerable to climate crisis
Noel Quinn, group chief executive of HSBC, delivered the opening keynote. He said COVID-19 was a massive wakeup call to the fragility of the global economy to a natural event.
“We’re very fortunate in an extremely difficult set up circumstances that there is a road out of that natural event. It’s called the vaccines. There may not be a return path out of a natural climate event,” Quinn said. “We have to wake up to the fact that sustainability … has to take a more prominent role going forward than maybe it has done in the past.”
Quinn explained that HSBC has been around for 156 years – seeing the world’s industrial landscape change many times over. He believes that kind of revolution will occur again in the next ten to fifteen years. He said entire industries will need to replatform their base technologies and transform their business models (e.g., carbon-heavy businesses becoming carbon-neutral), which will require significant investment.
“So, I look at this not through the risk lens first, but through the opportunity lens,” he said. “This is an opportunity for us as an institution – with our footprint in the emerging markets – that has to go through so much change, to be part of that change and to lead that change.”
To live up to climate commitments, Quinn said HSBC is dedicated to funding its clients transition from their current business models to more sustainable ones – rather than withdraw from fossil fuels and similar industries. But if a client is reluctant to change, he said, one must reserve the right to move away from that client.