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Guardian Publicly Challenges World's Largest Foundations to Divest

Fossil fuel divestment campaign calls on Gates Foundation and Wellcome Trust to remove combined $70 billion from threatening industries

Lauren McCauley

Having reached the mainstream with new backing from the United Nations, the global fossil fuel divestment campaign continues to gain momentum. On Monday, the Guardian news agency launched a campaign calling on the world's two largest charitable foundations, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, to follow the lead of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and nearly 200 other prominent universities and institutions by divesting their holdings from the fossil fuel industry.

"We are calling on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust to remove their investments from the top 200 fossil fuel companies and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within five years," the news service announced in a statement.

Despite the fact that both foundations consider climate change a serious threat, their combined $70 billion endowments invest millions in funding new fossil fuel exploration and extraction.

In 2013 alone, the Gates Foundation invested at least $1 billion of its holdings in 35 of the top 200 carbon reserve companies, the Guardian notes, while in 2014 the Wellcome Trust invested £564 million (roughly $834 million) in Shell, BP, Schlumberger, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton.

"Climate change poses a real threat to all of us, and it is morally and financially misguided to invest in companies dedicated to finding and burning more oil, gas and coal," reads a petition circulated by the Guardian in partnership with climate group 350.org.

In a Monday op-ed, Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor-in-chief, explained the thinking behind the campaign. 

"If journalism has so far failed to animate the public to exert sufficient pressure on politics through reporting and analysis, it seemed doubtful whether many people would be motivated by the idea of campaigning for a paragraph to be inserted into the negotiating text at the UN climate talks in Paris this December," Rusbridger wrote. "So we turned to an area where campaigners have recently begun to have marked successes: divestment." 

The Guardian's campaign is being launched with "the firm belief that it will force the issue now into the boardrooms and inboxes of people who have billions of dollars at their disposal."
—Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor-in-chief

The campaign, Rusbridger continues, is being launched with "the firm belief that it will force the issue now into the boardrooms and inboxes of people who have billions of dollars at their disposal." Divestment, he adds, "is a small but crucial step in the economic transition away from a global economy run on fossil fuels."

"The usual rule of newspaper campaigns is that you don’t start one unless you know you’re going to win it," he continued. "This one will almost certainly be won in time: the physics is unarguable."

The Guardian campaign was launched a day after the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) announced its support for the growing fossil fuel divestment campaign.

Also Monday, the Oxford University Council met to discuss whether they will also commit to divest their $3 billion endowment from fossil fuel funds.

Since the campaign's inception in 2010, 180 institutions worth a combined $50 billion have committed to divest.

Launched by 350.org, the fossil fuel divestment campaign was modeled after similar efforts to target corrupt industries, such as tobacco, and governments accused of human rights violations. The divestment campaign against the apartheid regime in South Africa is perhaps the most well-known example, while the ongoing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (or BDS) movement continues to press Israel for their violations of international law and Palestinian rights.

As part of their new campaign, the Guardian has released this video:


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