Authors threaten to boycott 2024 Edinburgh International Book Festival over sponsor’s fossil fuel links

Writers have raised concerns about the event’s main sponsor, investment management firm Baillie Gifford

Inga Parkel,Katrine Busse
Friday 11 August 2023 15:09 BST
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A group of authors are threatening to boycot next year’s edinburgh International Book Festival if the event’s main sponsors do not end fossil fuel investments. (Robert Perry/PA)
A group of authors are threatening to boycot next year’s edinburgh International Book Festival if the event’s main sponsors do not end fossil fuel investments. (Robert Perry/PA)

Authors appearing at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival are threatening to boycott next year’s event if organisers don’t end their link with “fossil fuel companies”.

More than 50 of the authors and event chairs taking part in this year’s festival – which gets underway on Saturday (12 August) – have said that if main sponsor Baillie Gifford does not divest billions of cash, organisers should find alternative sponsors.

If this does not happen, all authors should “commit to boycotting the festival in 2024”, the group said.

Leading writers including Ali Smith, Zadie Smith and Gary Younge have signed the open letter to festival organisers, accusing investment management firm Baillie Gifford of “making huge profits from global disaster”.

They added that the firm was seeking to “hide behind esteemed cultural institutions, like the Edinburgh Book Festival, as sanction for its continued operations”.

Nick Barley, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said the festival would consider the authors’s concerns “carefully” and keep an open mind about how to proceed.

The letter comes in the wake of climate activist Greta Thunberg pulling out of an appearance at this year’s event, after accusing Baillie Gifford of “greenwashing” – when an organisation spends more time and money marketing itself as environmentally friendly than on actually minimising its environmental impact, according to Business News Daily.

The investment management firm rejected Thunberg’s claims that it invests “heavily” in fossil fuels, saying just two per cent of its clients’ money was invested in the sector.

However, in their open letter to festival organisers, the authors and event chairs said Baillie Gifford “has up to £5bn invested in fossil fuel corporations”.

They stated: “These corporations fuel the climate crisis. They’re making huge profits from global disaster, and hide behind esteemed cultural institutions, like the Edinburgh Book Festival, as sanction for its continued operations.”

The group said they “stand in solidarity with all people harmed by the climate crisis, including people in the global south who have lost their homes, their livelihoods and been forced to migrate”.

They also expressed their solidarity with “people in the UK, including those whose homes have been flooded, whose health has been damaged by air pollution, and those who continue to suffer the dire consequences of corporate greed and political negligence”.

Yara Rodrigues Fowler, author of There Are More Things, said: “This summer has been defined by global wildfires, flooding and extreme heat: the climate crisis is here.

“In the midst of climate breakdown, Baillie Gifford is investing almost £5bn into the cause of this crisis: companies that profit from the fossil fuel industry.

“Edinburgh International Book Festival allowing them to sponsor cultural events gives them a social licence to continue funding the destruction of our only home.”

Mikaela Loach, author of It’s Not That Radical: Climate Action To Transform Our World, stated: “Edinburgh International Book Festival wouldn’t burn books, so why are they OK with burning the planet?

“Baillie Gifford’s whopping £5bn in investments in corporations making money from the fossil fuel industry is unjustifiable in a climate crisis caused and exacerbated by these same companies who have invested more into climate denial and delay than they have into green energy.

“Edinburgh International Book Festival must stand by their ‘Climate Positive’ commitment and drop Baillie Gifford as a sponsor.”

Guy Gunaratne, the author of Mister, Mister, said: “In recent years the Edinburgh International Book Festival has gone a long way in facilitating conversations about climate and environmental justice, featuring some of the most prominent authors currently writing on the issue.

“For these conversations to go beyond words on the page, they must send a clear message to their sponsors,” he added. “We call on them to show us that they truly understand the urgency of the situation, and its impact on people’s lives worldwide.”

Responding to the letter, Barley said: “We fully acknowledge your concerns about the devastating impact of fossil fuel exploitation on the climate – as individuals, and as a charity, we firmly agree.

“For these reasons, we promise to think about your letter carefully. The last thing we want is to let anyone give the impression we are on opposite sides.

“Just as we promise to listen carefully to you, we ask that you allow us some time to consider your comments. We’d also like to share with you the reasons why we have accepted this sponsorship agreement.”

Barley continued: “Like all arts organisations in the UK, we wouldn’t have enough funds to operate without private sponsorship. We looked very closely at the work of Baillie Gifford and it seems to us that they are, in fact, investing in companies that are seeking to resolve the crisis.

“Those companies include Orsted, the Danish wind farm specialist,” he said. “Orsted was mandated by the Danish government to keep two coal-fired power stations open until 2024 as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – and that is the only reason why a small percentage of their income still comes from fossil fuels.

“I hope you will talk with me and my colleagues, and discuss the complexities of this issue with us.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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