With the recent success at the United Nations Climate Summit in Paris, one would imagine that investing in fossil fuels would be largely out of favor. But that’s not true for one health research charity, as The Wellcome Trust has actually increased its investments in coal, oil and gas. The move comes despite large efforts from campaigners to encourage the charity to divest from fossil fuels.
Campaigners are extremely disappointed by the news, saying that the charity is on the “wrong side of history”. The charity claims that it considers climate change to be a major challenge to achieving worldwide health. But this did not stop The Wellcome Trust from increasing its stakes in mining companies BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, BP and BG. However, the charity did sell its holdings in Shell oil, which were worth approximately $210 million.
Reports indicate that The Wellcome Trust increased the value of its primary fossil fuel stocks somewhere between 5.2% and 27% over the previous year. The charity increased its holdings of BHP Billiton by 35% and Rio Tinto by 25%. It also increased its stake in BP by 12%. The company also is known to own a $32 million stake in African oil and gas company Ophir Energy and a $13 million stake in Nostrum Oil and Gas of Kazakhstan.
Estimates show that The Wellcome Trust lost nearly $260 million on its fossil fuel investments from the start of 2015 to August. Had the company cut its ties to fossil fuel companies in 2012, it would have saved $353 million.
Investment firms have largely soured on fossil fuels, with Goldman Sachs saying that coal has reached its “retirement age”. The head of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, has stated that the coal industry is under immense pressure to stay viable in the future. Despite this, The Wellcome trust has remained on board with the coal companies.
Divestment campaigner Danielle Paffard stated, “It’s hugely disappointing that a mission-driven organization like The Wellcome Trust should be choosing, after everything that’s just happened in Paris, to plant themselves on the wrong side of history by continuing to back fossil fuels. I hope those at the trust reflect on the implications of their actions, and the type of world they play a role in shaping.”
Another divestment campaigner Bill McKibben added, “The links between climate change and human health have never been clearer. It’s almost as if The Wellcome Trust is investing in tropical disease and natural disaster. It’s kind of hard to believe they’re doubling down, just when even people like the governor of the Bank of England are pointing out the problem.”
The Director of the medical campaign group Medact Dr. David McCoy opined, “It is now established that climate change is the greatest health threat of the 21st century. To hear that The Wellcome Trust is investing heavily in the industries that are driving the problem is deeply disturbing. It sends a message that the foundation does not believe this conflicts with their aim to improve health for everyone, or their duty as a charity to act in the public interest.”
Time will tell if The Wellcome Trust will eventually succumb to the pressure to eject out of this rapidly dying industry.