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November 17, 2015

Gates Foundation Quietly Sheds Fossil-Fuel Stock

Tax documents made public Monday show the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has reduced its stake in major oil, coal, and gas companies by two-thirds since 2013, but the world's largest philanthropy remains publicly quiet on the reasons for the shift, The Seattle Times writes.

In its 2014 tax return, the trust that manages the Gates Foundation's investments reported $475 million in holdings in firms ranked among the world's 200 largest in terms of fossil-fuel reserves — down from at least $1.4 billion the year before. Earlier this year the foundation sold off its Exxon Mobil shares, valued at nearly $825 million.

The foundation has been the target of protests by climate activists calling on it to fully cut financial ties to coal, oil, and gas. Bill Gates has dismissed divestment as ineffective in battling global warming but has announced plans to put $2 billion of his fortune into renewable-energy firms. Neither the foundation nor the trust has commented on the cutback in fossil-fuel holdings, which observers say could reflect both climate concerns and the declining value of such stocks due to plunging oil prices.

According to a new study, the Gates Foundation would have $1.9 billion more in its portfolio had it dropped fossil-fuel stocks three years ago and put the money into greener companies, The Guardian reports. Corporate Knights, a Canadian research company, analyzed the investments of 14 major foundations and pension funds and said they would collectively be $23-billion better off had they shed their oil, coal, and gas holdings. The Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, the largest health-focused U.K. charity, have been the focus of a pro-divestment campaign led by The Guardian.