Campaign for foundations to divest from fossil fuels hots up


Alliance magazine


On 16 March the UK’s Guardian newspaper launched its ‘Keep it in the ground’ campaign to persuade the world’s two biggest charitable funds, the Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, to move their money out of fossil fuels. It argues: ‘Your organisation has made a huge contribution to human progress … yet your investments in fossil fuels are putting this progress at great risk. It is morally and financially misguided to invest in companies dedicated to finding and burning more oil, gas and coal.’

Three days later, on 19 March, the Guardian revealed that the Gates Foundation held $1.4 billion in fossil-fuel stock in 2013:  ‘The charity run by Bill and Melinda Gates, who say the threat of climate change is so serious that immediate action is needed, held at least $1.4bn (£1bn) of investments in the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies, according to a Guardian analysis of the charity’s most recent tax filing in 2013.’

On 30 March, Civil Society Media reported: Wellcome Trust rejects call to make ‘grand gesture’ over fossil fuel investments. In a comment piece published in the Guardian the week before, Wellcome Trust director Jeremy Farrar said that the Trust has spent £32 million since 2010 on research addressing the impact a warmer world has on health.

‘We do not agree, however, that the strongest contribution the Trust can make to a decarbonised economy is a commitment to avoid investing in a list of 200 fossil-fuel companies,’ he argued. ‘… We understand the attraction of the grand gesture for which The Guardian is calling, but such a gesture can be made only once. By maintaining our positions, we meet boards again and again, supporting their best environmental initiatives and challenging their worst. We would not be able to have the frank discussions we require if we published details, but we are confident that our engagement has impact.’

The Guardian campaign has now received backing from senior scientists, including former chief advisers to the government of the UK and the European Commission, the Guardian reported on 20 March.

‘One of the major impacts of climate change is on human health, especially in developing countries through vector borne disease and heat stress,’ said Sir Bob Watson, former adviser to the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. ‘This is where Wellcome and Gates have put a huge amount of money.’

In the US, nearly 40 climate scientists and environmental groups are calling on museums of science and natural history to ‘cut all ties’ with fossil fuel companies and philanthropists such as David H and Charles G Koch, the New York Times reported on 24 March.

In an open letter, the scientists express deep concern about ‘the links between museums of science and natural history with those who profit from fossil fuels or fund lobby groups that misrepresent climate science’ and further argue that ‘the only ethical way forward for our museums is to cut all ties with the fossil fuel industry and funders of climate science obfuscation’.

>But the divestment movement received a setback on 17 March when a Massachusetts judge ruled that a group of Harvard students did not have legal standing to force the university to end its investment of endowment funds in fossil-fuel companies, as reported by the student newspaper The Harvard Crimson.

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little runmo

Divestment has the potential to serve as a “gateway campaign” that opens participants up to deeper structural critiques of not only Big Carbon, but capitalism.

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