The main sponsor of the Edinburgh book festival – which will feature an event with Greta Thunberg – has billions invested in firms that profit from fossil fuels, The Ferret has found.
Based on figures released in its annual climate report, The Ferret calculated that Baillie Gifford – which has its headquarters in Edinburgh – had up to £5bn invested in companies which make money from the oil, coal or gas sectors at the end of 2022.
The burning of such fossil fuels is the leading cause of the climate crisis.
Thunberg is set to appear at the festival to discuss her book about climate change. In January she accused investors in fossil fuels of being at “the very core” of the climate emergency and of throwing “people under the bus for their own gain”.
Climate campaigners told The Ferret it was time for cultural events to “step up the scrutiny” of their sponsors and to make sure they are not “bankrolling Big Oil and those fueling the climate crisis”.
One argued the book festival should “put the views of many of its speakers into action” and cut ties with Baillie Gifford.
Baillie Gifford declined to comment, while the book festival has not responded to our enquiries about its sponsorship.
According to its climate report, Baillie Gifford’s investment portfolios produced ‘total emissions’ last year which were equivalent to nearly 51m tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) entering the atmosphere.
‘Total emissions’ are a metric used by financial companies to measure their climate footprint and include the pollution caused by their ownership stakes in other firms.
On 31 December 2022, two per cent of Baillie Gifford’s total investments were in companies which make at least five per cent of their money from the oil or gas industries, while 0.3 per cent were in firms which profit from the mining and sale of coal.
Baillie Gifford’s total investments were worth £223bn at the end of 2022. Based on this number, The Ferret calculated that Baillie Gifford had approximately £4.5bn invested in companies involved with oil and gas, and around £670m in companies involved in the sale and mining of coal at that time.
The climate report notes that, by 2025, all Baillie Gifford clients will have the option to invest in a portfolio which is aligned with the world reaching net zero climate emissions by 2050.
But currently, only 20 per cent of the company’s assets are managed in this way. Meanwhile, 43 per cent of the firms that Baillie Gifford is invested in have climate targets which it considers to be “lagging”.
This is despite the fact the Paris Agreement – which aimed to limit global temperature rises to no more than 1.5 degrees – was signed nearly eight years ago.
Thunberg’s appearance at the Edinburgh Playhouse on 13 August will be part of a series of events at the book festival called Climate Positive. It will feature writers who “offer an energetic call to action and ideas about how humanity can, and must, step back from the brink” of climate breakdown.
The festival says it is committed to reducing its “environmental impact, increasing our sustainability and creating a forum for discussion to bring environmental concerns and the climate change debate to a wider public”.
“But with wildfires, droughts and temperature records tumbling, we need to step up scrutiny of sponsors and make sure those that are branding cultural events aren’t also the ones bankrolling Big Oil and those fuelling the climate crisis,” Garrard warned.
He added that if big investors “aren’t setting out credible plans to divest” from fossil fuels, then the time had come to “review whether we should be picking them as partners and selling them much-needed social legitimacy with sponsorship deals”.
This was echoed by the direct action protest group, This is Rigged. Its members last week scaled the Kelpies and blocked access to the Grangemouth oil refinery by concreting themselves to a nearby road in protest at the Scottish Government’s stance on new fossil fuels.
A spokesperson for the campaign group called on the book festival to “put the views of many of its speakers into action” and end its sponsorship by “fossil fuel financier” Baillie Gifford.
Simon Rawson, the deputy chief executive of ShareAction, said that asset managers like Baillie Gifford are “failing to act with the urgency required to limit dangerous rises in global temperature”.
“Our recent polling found that most people want their financial provider to invest their money in ways that consider the impacts on people and planet,” Rawson claimed. “While nearly all asset managers now have a long-term net-zero target, most interim targets are insufficient to achieve these commitments.”
“We’re calling on the investment industry to take full responsibility for the real-world impact of their financing decisions and ensure that public interest and protecting the planet are treated as seriously as financial returns.”
Baillie Gifford’s climate report says it “engages” with the companies it has holdings in to ensure they are mitigating the risks of climate change.
The firm also claims it “discussed climate change” 236 times with companies it was invested in last year, and could consider the option of divesting from companies on “financially material climate grounds”.
The company has committed to making its own business operations net zero by 2040 and claims that it audits 90 per cent of its investments to identify climate risks. Baillie Gifford has previously claimed that all its investment strategies “are aware and are thinking about the potential impacts of climate change”.
Overall, Baillie Gifford’s exposure to fossil fuels is lower than the global average for financial firms. But in some of its client portfolios as much as 12 per cent of investments are in companies that make money from coal, oil or gas.
Greta Thunberg has been asked to comment.
Photo Credit: Henry Nicholls/Reuters