Edinburgh Book Festival urged by 50 authors to drop sponsors

Edinburgh Book Festival urged by 50 authors to drop sponsors

by Suswati Basu
Authors sign statement against Edinburgh Book Festival sponsors. Credit: Nikesh Shukla.

A group of prominent authors, including Ali Smith, Zadie Smith, and Gary Younge, set the stage for a potential clash as they call on the Edinburgh Book Festival to sever its ties with sponsor Baillie Gifford due to its investments in fossil fuels.

The authors have signed an open letter expressing their solidarity with those affected by the climate crisis and criticising Baillie Gifford’s investments in oil and gas companies, accusing them of contributing to “corporate greed” while many in the UK struggle with fuel poverty and the cost of living crisis.

Baillie Gifford, an investment firm, had approximately £4.5 billion invested in oil and gas companies in 2022. The signatories of the letter have demanded that the book festival apply pressure on its main sponsor to divest from fossil fuels. If the company fails to do so, the authors have threatened to boycott the 2024 book festival.

Read: Greta Thunberg quits Edinburgh Book Fest: greenwashing claims

Greta Thunberg, the renowned climate activist, had previously withdrawn from an event at the festival, accusing Baillie Gifford of “greenwashing.” The company refuted being a “significant fossil fuel investor.”

Edinburgh Festival Author Statement
Dear Edinburgh Book Festival, according to the International Energy Agency, there can
be no more new investments in fossil fuels if we want a liveable future. (1)
Baille Gifford investment firm - lead sponsor of this festival - has up to £5bn
invested in fossil fuel corporations.*
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 only meaningful change is divestment. I call on Baillie Gifford to divest its
£5bn from fossil fuel companies. If it does not do so, I call on the Edinburgh
Book Festival to find alternative sponsors for 2024. If it does not, I call on all
authors to commit to boycotting the festival in 2024.
I 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. I stand in 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.
(1) https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/may/18/no-new-investment-
*an estimation based on Baillie Gifford's TCFD Climate Report which states their
investments in companies which make more than 5% of their revenues from oil,
gas and thermal coal mining and sale activities: https://www.bailliegifford.com/
Edinburgh Book Festival author statement

The authors who signed the open letter emphasise the urgency of addressing the climate crisis. Yara Rodrigues Fowler, author of “There Are More Things,” pointed out that Baillie Gifford’s investments in fossil fuel companies contradict the festival’s cultural values and could be seen as endorsing the destruction of the environment.

Mikaela Loach, author of “It’s Not That Radical: Climate Action To Transform Our World,” condemned Baillie Gifford’s significant investments in fossil fuel corporations, stating that such support is unacceptable in a time of climate crisis. She questioned why the festival, known for its commitment to promoting literature, would tolerate sponsorships from entities contributing to environmental degradation.

Author Guy Gunaratne, known for “Mister, Mister,” noted that the Edinburgh International Book Festival has become a platform for discussions on climate and environmental justice. He emphasised the need for the festival to take a stand and demonstrate its commitment to tackling urgent global issues.

Baillie Gifford refrained from commenting directly on the authors’ letter but reiterated its support for open debate and discussions, expressing its long-standing support for the book festival.

As the controversy unfolds, it remains to be seen how the Edinburgh International Book Festival will respond to the authors’ call for divestment and ethical sponsorship practices.

Devi Lockwood speaks about her book 1,001 Voices on Climate Change

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