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Rockefeller heirs shift oil fortune into renewables, call it ‘astute business’

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The descendants of America’s Rockefeller family, whose name and vast wealth are both deeply rooted in Big Oil, have joined the global divestment crusade, after shifting their multi-million dollar fossil fuel investments into clean energy on the eve of the UN climate change summit in New York.

The heirs to the Rockefeller fortune withdrew their funds from oil, gas and coal investments on Monday, lending a high profile boost to the $56 billion global Divest-Invest campaign, which has drawn 650 individuals and 180 institutions to switch to renewables over five years using a variety of approaches.

rockefeller

John D. Rockefeller, who founded Standard Oil along with brother William

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund – headed up Stephen Heintz, the great grandson of Standard Oil tycoon John D Rockefeller – controls about $860 million in assets, about 7 per cent of which is invested in fossil fuels.

As the Guardian has noted, the decision by the fund to cut its ties with oil has huge symbolic importance because of the Rockefeller’s oil-drenched family history, while also lending serious business credibility to a campaign launched by activists on US college campuses.

“John D Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil, moved America out of whale oil and into petroleum,” Heintz said in a statement. “We are quite convinced that if he were alive today, as an astute businessman looking out to the future, he would be moving out of fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy.”

Alongside the Rockefellers, the World Council of Churches – which represents some 590 million people in 150 countries – also pulled its investments from fossil fuels on Monday. About 30 US cities have also chosen to divest, including Santa Monica and Seattle.

A number of universities – the original targets of the divestment campaign –  have also started to cut ties with fossil fuels, including, most recently, Stanford University, which dropped all of its coal holdings from its $18 billion endowment.

But even beyond the divestment campaign, the financial world is shifting its focus to the low-carbon future.

Last week, more than 350 global institutional investors representing around $24 trillion in assets called on world government leaders to put a price on carbon, to help redirect investment on the scale required to combat climate change.

In a statement published last Thursday in New York, a message drafted through a collaboration of six investor groups warned that while the global finance sector is starting to take action on climate change, stronger government action is needed to accelerate the low carbon transition.

The statement – which will be presented, along with a report, to the UN climate summit in New York next week – also calls on world leaders to forge an ambitious global climate deal, as well as develop plans to phase out subsidies for fossil fuels.

A further investor statement, this time committing to the development of a global market of Green Bonds and Climate Bonds to finance climate change solutions, is also expected to be presented at the New York Climate Summit.  

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  • Beat Odermatt

    There are not many families with so much foresight as he Rockefeller. If this family jumps off the coal steamer then it may be a message for others to follow.