A loophole in HSBC’s pledge to phase out financing for coal by 2040 will allow the bank to support companies with plans to build more than 70 new coal plants, which could cause an estimated 18,700 deaths from air pollution a year, according to a report.
The bank’s asset management arm, which is not included in the coal phase-out pledge, holds ownership stakes in companies that plan to build 73 coal power plants across 11 countries in Africa and Asia, almost enough to supply fossil fuel electricity to all the UK’s homes three times over.
Once running, these plants would emit more air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter than all the coal-fired power plants in the EU and the UK combined in 2019, according to a report from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (Crea).
The report found that the air pollution impact of these coal plants could also lead to an estimated 29,000 emergency hospital visits due to asthma, 25,000 preterm births and 14 million days of work absence every year at a total annual cost of $6.2bn.
Lauri Myllyvirta, a lead analyst at Crea, said HSBC’s investments are “perpetuating dependence on the dirtiest form of power generation in countries that are already among the most polluted in the world”. The coal plants are expected to be built in Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Madagascar, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Africa, South Korea and Vietnam.
“The tens of thousands of cases of death and disease that would result from HSBC-linked coal power plants underline the urgency of shifting investments to clean energy to protect public health and the global climate,” Myllyvirta said.
HSBC bowed to investor pressure over its support for fossil fuels earlier this year by vowing to phase out its financing of coal-fired power and coal mining by 2030 in developed economies, and by 2040 elsewhere in the world.
However, the pledge will not extend to HSBC’s $612bn asset management arm, which is expected to continue investing in companies with plans to build coal power plants in developing countries.
An HSBC spokesperson said the asset management arm, which often invests based on index-linked funds that include fossil fuel companies, does not invest directly in coal-fired power plants or coal mining-related infrastructure.
“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 spokesperson added.
The scale of HSBC’s ongoing investment in coal through its asset management division was first revealed by Market Forces in a report earlier this year. Adam McGibbon, a lead campaigner at Market Forces, said although HSBC’s plans to keep investing in companies were understood, the “devastating human cost of these plants” was revealed in Crea’s report.
“Coal plants mean death and HSBC, as an investor in these companies, are complicit. HSBC’s investments in such a huge number of new coal plant-building companies makes a mockery of their claim to support the Paris agreement. Ahead of their AGM and Cop26, HSBC must announce plans to phase out their ownership stakes in coal companies,” he said.
HSBC will propose a special resolution on climate change at its AGM later this month, which will set out the next phase of the bank’s strategy to support its customers on the transition to net zero carbon emissions, including its pledge to phase out coal financing.
The bank set out plans in October to reduce emissions in its operations and supply chain to net zero by 2030, and to align the bank’s financed emissions at a portfolio level to net zero by 2050 or sooner.