Authors threaten book festival boycott over sponsor’s fossil fuel links

The letter comes in the wake of climate activist Greta Thunberg pulling out of an appearance at this year’s event.

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

Authors appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival are following in Greta Thunberg’s footsteps in demanding organisers sever ties with “fossil fuel companies”.

More than 50 of the authors and event chairs taking part in this year’s festival – including Zadie Smith and Alan Younge – are threatening a boycott of the 2024 event if main sponsor Baillie Gifford does not divest billions of cash.

In an open letter, they said authors would “commit to boycotting the festival” if alternative sponsors are not found.

Leading writers signed the missive, 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”.

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”.

The investment management firm rejected Thunberg’s claims that it invests “heavily” in fossil fuels, saying just 2% 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.

“We call on them to show us that they truly understand the urgency of the situation, and its impact on people’s lives worldwide.”

Nick Thomas, partner at Baillie Gifford said: “We are not a significant fossil fuel investor. Only 2% of our clients’ money is invested in companies with some business related to fossil fuels.

“This compares to the market average of 11%. Of those companies, some have already moved most of their business away from fossil fuels, and many are helping to drive the transition to clean energy.

“We are investing on behalf of our clients to grow their savings and retirement funds. When we invest in companies on their behalf, we do so over long time periods – typically 10 years or more – so this has naturally led us away from traditional fossil fuel firms. Currently, 5% of our clients’ money is invested in companies whose sole purpose is to develop clean energy solutions.

“We believe in open debate and discussion which is why we are long-term supporters of the Edinburgh International Book Festival.”

Nick Barley, director of Edinburgh International Book Festival, said: “Dear authors,

Thank you for your letter about the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s sponsorship by Baillie Gifford.

“Writers are the lifeblood of this festival. We exist to offer you and your readers the chance of open discussion about the things that matter to you.

“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. 

“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 Ørsted, the Danish windfarm specialist. Ørsted 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. Surely the best place for such conversations is at Book Festivals like ours. I invite you to the festival because I believe in the power of your words. I am keen to learn from you about this; to hear your expertise; to understand your perspective. I promise to consider what you say carefully, and keep an open mind about how to proceed.

“For that reason I’m proposing that we talk at the festival – with each other and with audience members who share the same concerns. Let’s talk in the Authors’ Yurt, in the bookshop, in the cafe and in the festival courtyard. Let’s talk in our theatres too: I’d like to find a time when we can invite representatives from across the spectrum of opinion to come on stage and have a discussion which will be open to the public. We’ll find a date when that’s possible and you’d be more than welcome to join us.

“Can we talk?”