Divestment advocates hit back at Bill Gates criticism
25 September 2019 at 4:54 pm
Bill Gates has declared that getting rid of fossil fuel stocks is a waste of time, but a leading Australian foundation believes the philanthropist is overlooking the divestment movement’s ability to create major social change.
Gates told the Financial Times last week that fossil fuel divestment had “zero” climate impact, and said those wanting to make a difference should instead invest in disruptive technologies that slow carbon emissions.
“Divestment, to date, probably has reduced about zero tonnes of emissions… I don’t know the mechanism of action where divestment [keeps] emissions [from] going up every year,” Gates said.
“When I’m taking billions of dollars and creating breakthrough energy ventures and funding only companies who, if they’re successful, reduce greenhouse gases by 0.5 per cent, then I actually do see a cause and effect type thing.”
But fossil fuel divestment advocates believe Gates is missing a key point of the movement, which is to weaken the political power of the fossil fuel industry.
Australian Communities Foundation CEO Maree Sidey said divestment was just the first step towards creating social change through capital.
Sidey told Pro Bono News she absolutely believed in the power of divestment as a global movement.
“Particularly for more traditional investors, it is the first step towards making positive investments that benefit the community,” Sidey said.
ACF last year announced that it was entirely divesting its $90 million corpus investment portfolio away from fossil fuels.
The commitment means no new investments in the top 200 oil, gas, or coal companies, and selling any of these existing investments within five years.
Sidey said ACF was undertaking a two-step process, whereby the foundation firstly divests away from alcohol, gambling, fossil fuels, tobacco and other harmful areas and then turns its investment focus towards social and climate solutions such as affordable housing, renewable energy, and sustainable agriculture.
“We’re committing to essentially have 100 per cent of the portfolio in responsible investing within the next three years,” she said.
“So that’s looking holistically at the corpus and saying, ‘where can we invest?’ We’re making sure that we’ve got rid of any nasties and can invest this money so that it can make a positive difference for society and the planet.”
Sidey said that Gates had overlooked the fact that divestment went hand in hand with his suggestion to invest in disruptive technologies.
“I understand the intent of what Gates is trying to say, but it’s too simplified, both negative and positive investing work together to create change, they are two halves of a whole,” she said.
The global DivestInvest movement has commitments from over 1,100 organisations – with combined assets of $8.8 trillion – to stop investing in fossil-fuel companies and invest in climate solutions.