updated 5/30/2007 11:27:36 AM ET 2007-05-30T15:27:36

HSBC, Europe's largest bank by market value, on Wednesday pledged $100 million to fund climate change projects, including efforts to clean up the Thames, Ganges, Yangtze and Amazon rivers.

HSBC Holdings PLC will donate the money over the next five years to help four charities monitor carbon levels in four crucial forests, clean up four major world rivers and promote environmental awareness initiatives in China and India.

"We as individuals are very conscious of major changes in the world," HSBC chairman Stephen Green told a news conference. "All institutions have to play their part in addressing this, including corporations."

The bank said the pledge was believed to be the largest of its kind in Britain and will benefit the Climate Group, Earthwatch Institute, the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

Business leaders have joined environmental groups in taking the lead in green initiatives as world leaders struggle to agree to binding cuts in greenhouse gas emissions when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

In the United States, New York-based Citigroup Inc., the nation's largest financial institution, has pledged $50 billion over 10 years for environmental causes. No. 2 Bank of America, which is headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., will put up $20 billion. JPMorgan Chase & Co., the third-largest bank, has pledged investments in renewable energy and studying carbon emissions credit trading.

The U.N.-affiliated Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in February — using its strongest language to date — that global warming is "very likely" caused by mankind, and that climate change will continue for centuries even if heat-trapping gases are reduced.

Earthwatch and the World Wide Fund for Nature will each receive $35 million, the Climate Group will receive $17 million and the Smithsonian will receive $8 million. About $5 million will go toward administrative costs.

Earthwatch Executive Director Nigel Winser said he hoped HSBC's donation will spur other companies to action.

"We believe this will embed climate change thinking into the heart of business," he said.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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