Gates Foundation unloads almost $1B in fossil fuel investments

Source: By Doughton/Mayo, Seattle Times • Posted: Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has scaled back its holdings in oil, coal and gas companies, according to tax documents made public this week.

Activists have long called for such a move. But it remains unclear whether the Gateses were ceding to public pressure or responding to a lagging oil and coal market.

The foundation’s investments in companies that ranked among Fossil Free Indexes’ top 200 based on the size of their fossil fuel reserves fell from at least $1.4 billion to $475 million from 2013 to 2014, according to tax returns.

Plummeting oil prices are partly responsible for the drop in value of those investments. Selling off those underperforming holdings could make good financial sense, said Scott Montgomery, who teaches energy economics and geopolitics at the University of Washington.

“A very, very large number of foundations, universities, pension funds and other investing entities have reduced fossil fuels in their portfolio because they’ve lost a lot [of money] and they don’t want to lose more,” said Montgomery.

Earlier this year, the Gateses sold off nearly $825 million worth of shares in Exxon Mobil Corp. Montgomery said that might have been a political statement.

“Exxon is a moneymaking machine, so I suspect that was very much an ethical choice,” he said.

Bill Gates has called divestment from fossil fuels a “false solution,” instead urging investment in renewable energy. Yet former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, a leader of the local Gates divestment movement, said this latest shift could mean the Gateses are paying attention to the growing divestment campaign, which has persuaded institutions representing at least $2.6 trillion worldwide to sell off fossil fuel investments.

“The Gates Foundation has a history of responding to public pressure, while simultaneously not admitting they are responding to public pressure,” McGinn said (Doughton/Mayo, Seattle Times, Nov. 16). — CVK