Greta Thunberg cancels Scots book festival appearance over 'greenwashing'

The climate activist pulled out of the festival in protest over sponsors Baillie Gifford for investing 'heavily' in fossil fuels.

Greta Thunberg has cancelled an appearance at the Edinburgh International Book Festival after accusing the sponsors of the event of “greenwashing”.

The climate activist, 20, was due to speak at the festival on August 13, but has pulled out in protest over sponsors Baillie Gifford.

She criticised the investment management firm for investing “heavily” in fossil fuels.

In a statement released through the Festival, the activist said: “I am unfortunately unable to attend the Edinburgh Book Festival. As a climate activist I cannot attend an event which receives sponsorship from Baillie Gifford, who invest heavily in the fossil fuel industry.

“Greenwashing efforts by the fossil fuel industry, including sponsorship of cultural events, allow them to keep the social licence to continue operating.

“I cannot and do not want to be associated with events that accept this kind of sponsorship.”

Baillie Gifford, however, have now denied investing “heavily” in oil and gas, claiming just 2% of their clients’ money is in the sector.

Responding to Greta Thunberg, a spokesperson for 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 ten 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.”

Ms Thunberg had been set to speak at an event entitled ‘It’s Not Too Late to Change the World’ is discuss The Climate Book which she created with the help of over 100 experts, including scientists, artists, Indigenous leaders, and those living on the front line of climate change.

The event at The Edinburgh Playhouse, which was also set to be livestreamed, aimed to “outline how collective action – and hope – will serve us in the urgent fight for our planet’s welfare”.

Chaired by Gemma Cairney, it was sponsored by the Open University in Scotland.

Nick Barley, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said he was “disappointed” with Greta Thunberg’s decision, but said he “fully respects” it.

“However, in applauding Greta for standing by her principles, we too must stand by ours.

“The Book Festival exists to give a platform for debate and discussion around key issues affecting humanity today – including the climate emergency.

“As a charitable organisation, we would not be in a position to provide that platform without the long-term support of organisations such as Baillie Gifford. We strongly believe that Baillie Gifford are part of the solution to the climate emergency.

“They are early investors in progressive climate positive companies, providing funds to help them grow. While they acknowledge there is still work to do, we have seen them make rapid progress throughout our 19-year relationship.

“I apologise to all the people who bought tickets and were keen to meet Greta – and especially to the hundreds of young climate campaigners who we had invited to come along because of their hard work to change the system in Scotland. We will of course refund all ticket-buyers in full.”

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