In a move described as the “largest shift in the model the institution created from the sale of oil uses to finance itself”, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation has announced that it is at an advanced stage of selling its oil company Partex to a Chinese conglomerate.
It’s not entirely clear what has brought on this ‘change of heart’ but pundits suggest Gulbenkian’s more philanthropic activities no longer gel with the image of oil production.
The announcement stressed that if the deal goes through, the foundation will pursue “a new energy matrix and its objectives for sustainability, in line with the international movement followed by other foundations”.
Philanthropy will continue with the same emphasis that it has been given in the past, “destined for the good of Humanity”.
So, the question hanging in the wings is ‘has the foundation suddenly “seen the light” regarding the continued use and development of fossil fuels, or is this just an expedient attempt at rebranding?’
Sources in Portugal’s anti-oil fight suggest the latter.
“A leopard does not change its spots”, said the doyenne of the fight for sustainable energy Laurinda Seabra. “It simply camouflages them.
“If they divest their interests, will they then focus on being lobbyists for big interests and carry on with their greenwashing campaign from a distance?”
The so-called ‘greenwashing campaign’ includes Gulbenkian’s Oceans Initiative which has been packaged to sound very green but on closer inspection cites goals like “the exploration and exploitation of marine-based natural resources”.
The foundation’s latest dossier headlined: “How much are Oceans worth?” is what set alarm bells ringing last year (click here), thus this ‘watershed’ announcement is being taken with some degree of (marine) salt.
Meantime, the Chinese said to be poised to take over Gulbenkian’s oil interests are the same Chinese company (CEFC) that recently purchased Montepio Seguros (insurance arm of the Associação Mutualista that owns Montepio Bank).
CEFC is described in Wikipedia as having a revenue of €33 billion in 2014, generating most of it from oil and gas (60%) and financial services (25%).
It also operates in other sectors – transport infrastructure, forestry, asset management, hotel management, warehousing services, real estate development and logistics services.
A large portion of CEFC’s assets is “concentrated in overseas markets”, with “multiple assets in the Czech Republic”.