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From left: Stephen Heintz, President of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Valerie Rockefeller Wayne, the chair of the fund, and Steven Rockefeller, a son of Nelson Rockefeller and a trustee of the fund, in New York, Sept. 16, 2014. The family whose legendary wealth flowed from Standard Oil is planning to announce on Monday that its $860-million philanthropic organization, is joining the divestment movement that began on college campuses.Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, one of oilman John D. Rockefeller's financial legacies, intends to immediately sell its oil sands and coal investments, arguing that the industries are two of the world's most intense source of carbon emissions and that clashes with the charitable foundation's desire to curb climate change.

The fund says it is "committed" to reducing its stake in coal and oil sands operations to less than 1 per cent by the end of the year, according to a statement released Monday. The fund is also examining its exposure to other fossil fuels and will come up with a strategy relative to those investments in the coming years.

"Given the RBF's deep commitment to combatting climate change, the fund is now committing to a two-step process to address its desire to divest from investments in fossil fuels," the statement said. "Our immediate focus will be on coal and tar sands, two of the most intensive sources of carbon emissions. We are working to eliminate the fund's exposure to these energy sources as quickly as possible."

The announcement comes one day before the UN Climate Summit – an event Prime Minister Stephen Harper is skipping while other world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, are attending. Hundreds of thousands of protesters demanding action to prevent climate change marched in cities around the globe this weekend.

The Rockefeller fund, a charitable organization founded in 1940, is guided by a one-sentence mission statement. "The Rockefeller Brothers Fund advances social change that contributes to a more just, sustainable, and peaceful world," the statement, posted on the fund's website, reads. The fund did not provide details about the size of coal and oil sands investments.

John D. Rockefeller founded Standard Oil Co. Inc., which spawned some of the world's most powerful energy companies. Several companies that emerged from the forced breakup of Standard Oil in 1911 are among today's the most active players in the Alberta oil sands. The group includes including Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips. BP PLC, which is developing the Sunrise Oil Sands Project with Husky Energy Inc. BP absorbed the Standard successor Amoco in 1998. Imperial Oil Ltd., one of the oil sands' dominant companies, has been majority owned by Standard, now Exxon Mobil, since the 1880s.

The fund, in a separate statement from the Global Divest/Invest organization, hinted it was aware that its roots do not align with its pledge to move away from fossil fuels.

"John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil, moved America out of whale oil and into petroleum," Stephen Heintz, president of the fund, said in that 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."

Mr. Heintz in an interview said coal and oil sands investments make up roughly 1.4 per cent of the $860-million fund. He said he did not know the names of any oil sands companies the foundation has invested in, but did note it has invested in large diversified energy companies with holdings in the oil sands.

The fund's commitment to move away from fossil fuels adds to the list of roughly 800 global investors who have pledged to do the same, according to Divest/Invest. The group says these organizations and wealthy individuals control roughly $50-billion (U.S.) in total assets.

With files from reporter Jeffrey Jones in Calgary

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