HSBC-linked new coal plants will cause 19,000 air pollution deaths per year

5 May 2021

In April, Market Forces revealed that HSBC’s proposed new coal policy won’t affect it’s asset management arm, allowing HSBC to continue to own stakes in coal companies that together plan 73 new coal plants, generating 99 gigawatts (GW) of energy from coal.

Not only are these plants a climate disaster, they are a deadly threat to people who will live near these plants in countries from South Africa to Indonesia. The Centre for Research on Energy & Clean Air (CREA) has investigated the air pollution impacts of these proposed plants.

The results were horrifying. If built, these new coal plants will:

  • Cause an estimated 18,700 deaths from air pollution per year;
  • Emit more deadly air pollutants (sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter) than all the coal-fired power plants in the EU and the UK combined in 2019; and
  • Lead to 29,000 emergency room visits due to asthma, 25,000 premature births and 14 million days of work absence per year.

Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel, not just for our climate, but for our health. We already know that air pollution causes cancer, lung disease, heart attacks, strokes, even miscarriages. But new research comes out all the time indicating that every cell in our bodies may be affected by dirty air.

HSBC knows this, but is happy to keep on investing and profiting from companies that are killing people in this way. 

Air pollution death toll by county from coal plants built by HSBC-invested companies

CountryCREA central estimate of air pollution deaths
India 8,347
China 4,188
Myanmar (Burma)435
Thailand 304
Philippines 284
Nepal 234
South Africa198
Sri Lanka 156
South Korea 94
Malaysia 88

The world can’t take more coal

The CREA report lists a litany of suffering and death that will come about as a result of these coal plants. The climate can’t take any more either. Despite the United Nations calling for all new coal projects to be cancelled, HSBC is ignoring this and continuing to support companies building new coal plants.

Scientists say in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C, as enshrined in the Paris Agreement HSBC claims to support, coal power must be phased out worldwide by 2040. This simply is not compatible with investing in companies building new coal plants now, given that coal plants being built now will have a lifespan beyond 2040. 

By extending the life of coal power, HSBC is literally shortening the lives of people in regions where these polluting projects are to be built. 

What must happen?

If HSBC 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 must only invest in companies that are not seeking to attempt to expand the scale of the fossil fuel industry, and are not basing expectations of future revenue or growth on scenarios consistent with the failure of the Paris Agreement.
  • Specifically, this means immediate divestment from companies attempting to build new coal plants and remaining divested until those companies produce clear plans for managing down their fossil fuel assets on a Paris-aligned time frame. 
  • HSBC should not be invested in any company or project that is incompatible with the goals of the Paris Agreement, and be prioritising investment in companies and projects that accelerate the economic transformation towards the Paris Agreement’s goals.


The Centre for Research on Energy & Clean Air (CREA) is an independent research organisation focused on revealing the trends, causes, and health impacts of air pollution. Using Market Forces data and information from other sources, CREA developed a study combining our data with a well-established methodology for calculating air pollution impacts. CREA’s full report with more detail is available here.