Why Is the Nobel Foundation Investing in Fossil Fuels?


For those who work in science, literature and international peace, winning a Nobel Prize is considered the height of human achievement and reward. But when it comes to its own investment portfolio, it seems the Nobel Foundation behind the prize is prepared to abandon its commitment to high standards.

Rather than use the same progressive principles that guide its prize-giving to guide its investment, the Nobel Foundation profits from investing its endowment in the fossil fuel industry. In 2017, the foundation admitted it had only taken "a first step" against excluding companies with a high share of their profits coming from coal mining, and has made no mention of divesting from oil and gas. This is clearly in conflict with the aim of Alfred Nobel's legacy and the goal of the laureates. SumOfUs members are calling on the Nobel Foundation to clean up its act.

If the Nobel Foundation takes the plunge and sorts out its investments, it won’t be acting alone. More than 837 institutions with total assets of more than $6 trillion have committed to stop investing in fossil fuels companies, taking a clear stance against one of the main drivers of climate change. Further, the foundation has previously recognized the importance of bringing its portfolio in line with its principles, having withdrawn investment from nuclear weapons-related companies in the past.

There’s no denying that nuclear weapons threaten the existence of life on Earth. But while climate change might offer a slower-burn version of Armageddon, there’s no getting away from the science: if we do not act decisively to tackle the threat from climate change, that too will jeopardize life as we know it. With increases in the incidence of extreme weather events a major effect of climate change, the world’s people and habitats are already coming under huge pressure from the increased frequency of hurricanes, typhoons and draught as the weather-effects of climate change grow in intensity.

The Nobel Foundation has already acknowledged the importance of dealing with climate change in its award recipients. In 2007, the Nobel Prize was awarded to Al Gore and some of the world’s top climate scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change." Now they must make their intellectual commitment marry up with their funding, and lead by example by ditching their fossil fuel investments.

Over the past couple of years, the movement urging the Nobel Foundation to divest from fossil fuels has been gaining momentum. The organization Fossil Free Sweden began its Nobel Divestment campaign in 2016, after successfully persuading the cities of Malmö and Stockholm to divest from fossil fuels. More than 20 Nobel laureates and scientists from around the world have joined the campaign.

The campaign urges the Nobel Foundation to adjust its investment policy to distance itself from corporations deriving profits from fossil fuels and to devise a plan to withdraw from those type of investments over the next five years. The campaign urges the Nobel Foundation to undertake this process transparency and with a public statement of its intentions that also serves to call other institutions to follow suit.

The Nobel Foundation has forged a reputation for recognizing and rewarding greatness, often before the world at large has realized the significance of a breakthrough or a discovery. It has shaped humanity’s ambition for understanding our own situation and striving to take action to improve upon it. Climate change threatens every facet of the achievements that the Nobel Foundation works to elevate, and presents some of the greatest challenges that the foundation encourages us to address. To retain its status in the eyes of the world, it must now bring its own house in order on climate change, and jettison its fossil fuel investments.

TAKE ACTION: Tell the Nobel Foundation to divest from fossil fuels.

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