Gates Foundation divests entirely in oil giant BP

Students in Seattle, Washington, the first large U.S. city to divest in fossil fuel financing. (Credit: Backbone Campaign/Flickr)

The Gates Foundation Asset Trust has completely divested its holdings of BP oil, according to recent regulatory filings. Environmental activists, who have been urging the Foundation to divest in fossil fuels and set a global precedent, are claiming a win with the news. But as depressed oil prices have lately proved fossil fuels to be a poor investment, the decision could be purely economic.

Bill Gates has been against the idea for years, telling The Atlantic last year that divesting in fossil fuels is a “false solution” to the problem of climate change. But the Gates Foundation sold more than $800 million worth of Exxon stock last fall, and sold $187 million holdings in oil giant BP sometime in the final quarter of last year.

Because the foundation doesn’t publicly comment on its investments, the move was revealed in a recent filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

“The fact that [the Gates Foundation]chose to divest from Exxon, and now BP, is very significant,” said Mike McGinn, former Seattle mayor, environmental activist and podcast host, in an interview with Humanosphere. “It’s a sign that the fossil fuel industry’s on the way out, and it’s a sign that the divestment movement worldwide is having an impact on investors.”

McGinn, along with renowned environmental activist Bill McKibben, the Sierra Club, the Guardian and others, have been calling upon the Gates Foundation for months to divest from fossil fuels through organizations like 350.org and GatesDivest.org. The move is also a victory for campaigners for the divestment in fossil fuels overall, including the Rockefellers Brothers Fund, the Wallace Global Fund and numerous other philanthropies.

According to the Guardian, the value of the foundation’s energy holdings has likely declined by as much as 85 percent since 2014, leading many to speculate that the Gates Foundation’s recent move was mostly financial. Regardless, divestment campaigners are applauding the decision, and calling on the Gates Foundation to continue pulling its funding out of the fossil fuel industry.

“We are thrilled that the Gates Foundation continues to divest from fossil fuel stocks, but it’s time to divest the rest,” Alec Connon, an organizer for Gates Divest, told the Guardian. “Investing in oil companies is completely inconsistent with the Gates Foundation mission to ensure that everybody has the chance to live a healthy, productive life.”

Campaigners also want the Foundation to take a more public stance on the divestments and draw attention to the threat posed by the carbon bubble to the global economy.

“They’re moving their financial capital, but we’d love if they said some moral capital on it, too,” said McGinn, adding, “This is a place where both the ethical and financial align.”

Seattle, home to the Gates Foundation’s headquarters, was the first large U.S. city to divest in fossil fuel investments. The Gates Foundation’s recent divestment from BP is the latest in a movement that has seen cities, insurers and other investors  – controlling more than $3 trillion in assets – pledge to divest in fossil fuels companies.

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About Author

Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com

  • bee

    dear Editors,
    the Gates Foundation has huge investments in Warrne Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway … i.e. in fossil fuels.

    all the best in your PR work for the Gates
    bee