To mark the launch of OnePoint5, ASDA’A BCW’s Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) advisory, we commissioned an exclusive study of 200 decision makers in the UAE and Saudi Arabia to understand their perceptions about ESG.
The survey was conducted by PSB Middle East, the wholly owned data and analytics subsidiary of ASDA’A BCW, from May 22 to 29, 2022. The interview sample, comprising decision makers directly involved in ESG affairs, was evenly split between Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The financial industry was still reeling this week from incendiary comments made by one its most senior figures on the threat of climate change, or rather the lack of it.
Entitled ‘Why investors need not worry about climate risk’, the 16-minute address by Stuart Kirk, apparently now the former global head of responsible investments at HSBC Asset Management, to an audience of industry experts hosted by the Financial Times last week, had at the time of writing racked up more than 90,000 views on You Tube.
Add to that a few red faces at an institution that has pledged to help its customers achieve up to US$1 trillion in sustainable investments by 2030 – and been named best investment bank for sustainability. Stating that his beard was his “one sop to sustainable investing”, Mr. Kirk dismissed climate activists as “nut jobs” and bemoaned the tendency of his peers to “out-hyperbole the next guy” on the dangers of global warming on the international conference circuit.
Worst of all, he said, was the volume of climate change risk analysis he and his colleagues were being forced to do, at a time when HSBC was dealing with the “China problem”, cryptocurrency attacks, spiraling interest rates, inflation and a looming housing crisis.
“The proportionality is completely out of whack,” he exclaimed.
The Cambridge University graduate went on to insist that the markets agreed with him, arguing that the more the media used the term “climate catastrophe”, the more asset prices increased. Either this meant climate risk was negligible, that it was already priced in, or that investors were all wrong.
Fears about global warming were exaggerated, much like the Y2K scare at the turn of the century, because they underestimated the ability of human beings to adapt, Mr. Kirk concluded.
“Who cares if Miami is six meters under water in 100 years?” he reasoned. “Amsterdam has been six meters under water for ages and that’s a really nice place.”
While the FT will be delighted with the amount of engagement its humble webinar has received so far, Mr. Kirk’s rant raises a number of important issues.
Firstly, it shows how disconnected capital markets have become from the real economy, a recurring topic of debate since the downturn of 2008, from which stock markets have recovered strongly, unlike a great many households.
Share prices even continued to march upwards during the COVID-19 pandemic – remember that? – when capitalism itself was temporarily in a state of suspended animation.
Secondly, it reveals the worrying indifference of some financial professionals to climate change, a phenomenon that they, admittedly, will not be experiencing as acutely as billions of others around the world, mainly its poor.
While HSBC’s leadership was swift to distance itself from Mr. Kirk’s inflammatory remarks, other observers have been quick to defend his right to free speech and have praised him for dispensing some necessary “home-truths”.
These may be a minority, but even those committed to sustainable investing are generally only concerned with financially material climate change risks. The moral imperative of tackling global warming tends to feature less prominently in the debate, as Mr. Kirk’s outburst clearly illustrates.
Mr. Kirk also highlights a third issue, the genuine frustrations of policymakers in dealing with present-day crises, such as the war in Ukraine and the specter of a global recession, on the one hand, and the even more serious but relatively more distant threat of climate change on the other.
That is not to justify the head-in-the-sand thinking of Mr. Kirk, whose faith in humanity’s resilience to climate emergencies fails to account for the human cost of rising global temperatures. Nor the inability of the natural environment to adapt, on which we all depend.
Then again, who cares when Amsterdam and Miami are such nice places, even under water?
For communications professionals, Mr. Kirk exposes the reputational risk of speaking one’s mind in the online universe. Before, a frank exchange at an intimate gathering of industry professionals would have had few consequences. Today, as Kay-Achim Schönbach, the former head of the German navy, discovered when wandering off message during an online Q&A session on the Ukraine conflict in January, it can cause terminal damage to one’s career.
Webinars pose another stubborn communications problem – that of management approval. The FT insisted that the theme and content of Mr. Kirk’s presentation had been signed off by the suits at HSBC. But can a presentation amounting to a few bullet points and three emojis on a ten-slide PowerPoint deck really be approved?
I have a hunch that HSBC’s spokespeople will be submitting recorded versions of their speeches for their managers to scrutinize in the future. Or, like Stuart Kirk, they may find themselves suspended.
Watch Stuart Kirk’s presentation here
Stephen Worsley is the Senior Vice President – Growth & Innovation at ASDA’A BCW
It is my honour to congratulate Sheikh Mohamed as he leads a transformational era of growth for the nation. As the driving force in the UAE’s economic diversification strategy, Sheikh Mohamed has not only enhanced the nation’s geopolitical stature across the world but also fostered a framework of sustainable development backed by positive climate action.
His progressive policies are a model for future-driven development and will help secure the nation’s Vision 2071 to be among the best countries in the world. Sheikh Mohamed’s belief that youth, not oil, is the future of the nation has been an inspiration for everyone.
BCW was selected after an exhaustive research of 200 submissions from PR firms across the UK, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
Recognising BCW EMEA, PRovoke said: “BCW kept true to its ‘Moving People’ proposition… taking a proactive approach to client partnerships and producing some of the most creative and impactful work in the industry.”
Sunil John, President – Middle East of BCW and Founder of ASDA’A BCW, said: “We are thrilled that BCW EMEA has been recognised as the leading consultancy in the region, reflecting the quality of work we do in the Middle East. This is truly special as it reflects the success of our strategy in response to the pandemic to become truly integrated, digital-first and creative. Our talented team makes a difference with their innovative and creative approach to communications.”
Commenting on the win, Maja Pawinska Sims, Associate editor, EMEA at PRovoke Media, observed: “Three years after its mega-merger, BCW has evolved into a formidable player in EMEA, with an agility and propensity for innovation that you might not expect from an agency of its size even outside a pandemic. While much of the world came to a standstill, BCW kept true to its ‘Moving People’ proposition.”
ASDA’A BCW’s Finance Practice’s campaign for VISA, #WhereYouShopMatters, also won the Gold SABRE EMEA 2021 Award in the Best Consumer Services – Financial Services category. The campaign was selected from over 2,000 submissions from across Europe, the Middle East and Africa by an expert panel of 60 professionals.
#WhereYouShopMatters is a great example of the innovative integration of PR, research and digital. It not only made communications impact but also made a big difference to small businesses affected by the pandemic.
The IN2SABRE Awards 2021 were also announced at the ceremony, and ASDA’A BCW won two honours: Best Meme/Viral Campaign by the Corporate and Proof Communications teams for the #MoveForwardwithBayer. This impactful campaign reflects the power of the firm’s digital-first approach. ASDA’A BCW also won a Certificate of Excellence for Thought Leadership in PR for its 12th Annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey 2020.