Coal-fired power plants set to be built by companies part-owned by British multinational bank HSBC will contribute to tens of thousands of deaths worldwide due to air pollution once completed, new research suggests.
A new study by researchers at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) estimates that the planned coal plants would, when operational, be responsible for 18,700 premature deaths per year across countries including India, China and Bangladesh.
As well as being a major driver of carbon dioxide emissions, the burning of coal emits air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, which are highly hazardous to human health and increase the risk of respiratory disease, strokes and heart failure.
Lauri Myllyvirta, 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 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,” he added.
HSBC recently announced its intention to draw up a new coal policy by the end of 2021, and has committed to phase out coal financing for the first time. But the bank’s proposed policy will exclude its $612 billion asset management arm, which a recent study by campaign group Market Forces revealed includes stakes in companies planning to develop a total of 73 new coal plants.
Responding to this latest study, Adam McGibbon, UK Campaign Lead at Market Forces warned HSBC that if it “plans to show its face at the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow this year, it had better clean up its act and disown any company trying to perpetuate the climate and human health crises brought about by fossil fuels.”
HSBC is among the world’s biggest backers of the fossil fuel industry and has provided an estimated $87 billion worth of financing to the industry since the Paris Agreement. A recent DeSmog investigation found that a number of HSBC’s board members had past or current ties to the fossil fuel industry, including coal companies, through employment or board memberships.
An HSBC Spokesperson said that, while the bank’s asset management arm had investments in index-linked funds that included fossil fuel companies, it did 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.”
HSBC is set to propose a resolution on climate change at its annual general meeting later this month, which will include a policy to phase out the financing of coal-fired power and thermal coal mining by 2030 in OECD markets and by 2040 in other markets.