Oil-funded Rockefeller Foundation Centers fight for climate
NEW YORK (AP) — The Rockefeller Foundation, created with wealth generated by the oil industry more than a century ago, plans to put the fight against climate change at the heart of all of its work, including its operations and investments.
In a public letter released on Tuesday, the foundation’s chairman, Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, acknowledged the “irony” that his organization’s founder, John D. Rockefeller, “made his fortune fueling the growing United States with carbon”.
Speaking to The Associated Press ahead of the announcement, Shah said all institutions that have benefited from fossil fuel-driven development have a responsibility to tackle climate change.
“Obviously an institution like the Rockefeller Foundation has an even higher level of responsibility because we are an even greater beneficiary of this process,” he said. Rockefeller Foundation funds part of Associated Press coverage of climate change.
The pledge builds on the foundation’s decision to withdraw its endowment of more than $6 billion from fossil fuels starting in 2020, though it still has what Shah called negligible exposure. The foundation has also partnered with the Ikea Foundation and the Bezos Earth Fund to launch an international consortium to accelerate the transition to renewable energy, with the three nonprofits donating $500 million. The consortium has since raised about $10 billion in additional funding, the foundation said.
Such partnerships reflect the Rockefeller Foundation’s belief that it can alter the course of history by expanding the reach of its work and resources.
“The reason for doing this is basically to put a marker on our ambition, our sense of urgency and our desire to be transformational in order to deepen our partnerships with others, to try to really change the course of the equation climate on this planet,” Shah said.
The Rockefeller Foundation plans to take a year to study where it can make the most impactful partnerships and investments.
“Our process is really less about shutting down, locking ourselves in a closet and reading and modeling spreadsheets, and more about listening and talking to key individuals, institutions, heads of state and the people we serve in in the end,” Shah said. “And understand how philanthropy can best mobilize support for their boldest, most urgent ideas.”
The foundation remains committed to its current grantees, a spokesperson said, adding, “Because climate change is the greatest threat of our time, it requires us to remain adaptable and learn alongside our grantees and partners.” .
He argues that the new commitment does not represent a change from his mission “to promote the well-being of mankind throughout the world”. Established in 1913, the foundation focused on public health, including mass vaccination campaigns and the establishment of public health authorities around the world. Its first environment-related program was launched in 1969. The foundation’s current work continues to focus on public health as well as access to renewable energy, economic equity, and access to food. In 2021, the foundation said it had distributed the equivalent of $22 billion in its history.
However, Shah says a response to the climate crisis is urgent. Data shows philanthropic donations for climate change mitigation accounted for just 2% of total global philanthropic giving in 2020, according to an analysis by the organization ClimateWorks Foundation.
“Combine that with the lack of action happening at the required levels from governments and businesses, and then the trillions that need to be unlocked,” said Shawn Reifsteck, vice president of ClimateWorks. “We basically need more and more funders to do more things at increased levels.”
Increased philanthropic involvement cannot come too soon according to the world’s largest body of climate scientists. In April, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report warning of an unlivable world unless greenhouse gas emissions are reduced faster than current country commitments.
Marion Gee, co-executive director of the Climate Justice Alliance, said it was encouraging that a major foundation wanted to put the fight against climate change at the heart of its work, but said foundations must also question the economic system that perpetuates it, including divestment.
“How do you move that money from Wall Street where many of the problems we face today were caused by these corporations,” and move the funds into local, sustainable economies, Gee asked.
ClimateWorks analysis shows that foundations have made additional grants for climate change mitigation on an annual basis over the past five years, with the total rising from $900 million in 2015 to $1.9 billion in 2020.
“We hope this will continue and, in fact, accelerate,” Reifsteck said.
The Associated Press’s coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits is supported by the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.