When the Rockefeller Foundation divested from fossil fuels, it caught some people by surprise. But the fact is that the fossil fuel divestment movement has grown faster than almost anyone had expected.
There's good reason for that.
Not only is it important for any of us to know where our money is going for moral reasons, we might also want to keep an eye on fossil fuel investments for the sake of our own pensions.
As evidenced by the apparent stall in global carbon emissions, the fall in Chinese coal consumption, declines in energy consumption in many parts of the world and the rapid spread (and falling costs) of solar power, many investors are beginning to realize that a gigantic share of fossil fuel reserves may become worthless before they can ever be burned.
Now The Guardian newspaper—which has embarked on a major and perhaps unprecedented scaling up of its climate change coverage—is launching a campaign to pressure two of the world's most prominent charitable foundations, The Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, to divest their endowments from fossil fuels.
The Guardian's editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger makes the case for why they are targeting these two organizations:
The Wellcome Trust handles a portfolio of more than £18bn and invests around £700m a year in science, the humanities, social science education and medical research. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has an endowment of $43.5bn. Last year it gave away $3.9bn in grants towards health and sustainable development. In 2014 the Wellcome Trust had £564m invested in Shell, BP, Schlumberger, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton alone. The Gates Foundation has a financial stake of over $1bn in fossil fuel companies.
By most standards, these are huge sums of money, helping to fund the extraction of unusable oil gas and coal on a massive scale. But, as a proportion of the foundations’ own endowments, they are relatively small – just a few percent for the fossil fuel investments we know about. So they could, we think, be divested without damaging overall returns. Indeed, we think they could achieve higher and, over time, safer returns by putting their money into other investments with real opportunities for growth in a world tackling climate change.
The Guardian campaign, which you can support here, should be an interesting one to follow, and is about much more than the financial maneuverings of these two huge trusts.
The accompanying coverage also promises to give readers "the information they need to make their own investment decisions and to apply pressure on the workplaces, unions, schools, colleges, churches, NGOs, pension advisers and charities in their lives." It will also, as you would hope, be pushing The Guardian Media Group to divest its own money from any fossil fuel companies.
Just one more reason for the fossil fuel industry to look worried.