A new campaign supported by high-profile authors including Naomi Klein has urged Edinburgh book festival sponsor, Baillie Gifford, to end its investments in fossil fuels.
Climate activist Greta Thunberg subsequently cancelled a planned appearance at the book festival and over 100 authors signed an open letter to its organisers, calling on them to cut ties with Baillie Gifford if it did not divest from the fossil fuel industry.
Now a new campaign group, Fossil Free Books, has issued a statement urging all literary festivals who receive sponsorship from Baillie Gifford to back calls for the asset manager to drop its fossil fuel investments.
The statement has been signed by 130 literary industry workers including a number of well-known authors such as Naomi Klein, Nish Kumar and Rebecca Solnit.
Baillie Gifford has previously said it is not “a significant fossil fuel investor” and has a smaller amount of money in fossil fuels than other global asset managers. It has also pointed out that it invests in technologies which help the transition to clean energy.
But the author Jessica Gaitán Johannesson, who signed the Fossil Free Books statement, said the literary community in the UK has a “unique relationship” with Baillie Gifford which it should use to ask the firm to “remove fossil fuel companies from its portfolios”.
Johanesson pointed out that Baillie Gifford has holdings in the China National Offshore Oil Company – a partner in the controversial East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project in Uganda and Tanzania.
Green groups have claimed that EACOP will have “disastrous consequences” for the climate and communities in East Africa. The French company which owns most of EACOP, TotalEnergies, argues it will keep oil prices low while the transition to renewable energy takes place.
Johanesson added: “Activists on the ground are asking those of us in the Global North to stop the flow of money to EACOP. I’m asking Baillie Gifford [to do so] in solidarity with them.”
Environmental campaigner and author, Ellen Miles, who also signed the statement, said: “We’re organising as workers because these festivals are our livelihoods and we care about them deeply. We don’t want to shut these events down, nor can we afford to.
“What we want is for festivals to join us in asking Baillie Gifford do the right thing and move its funds away from fossil fuel companies like [Brazilian state oil company] Petrobras and CNOOC.
“Literature festivals invite us to speak about the scale and urgency of the climate crisis. But we can’t speak about the climate crisis while ignoring the destructive outcomes of funding fossil fuel development.”
The Ferret has approached Baillie Gifford for comment. After Greta Thunberg’s decision to pull out of the Edinburgh Book Festival in August, a company spokesperson said: “We are not a significant fossil fuel investor.
“Only two per cent of our client’s money is invested in companies with some business related to fossil fuels. This compares to the market average of 11 per cent.
“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.
“Currently, five per cent of our client’s 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.”
Cover image thanks to iStock/Svetlanais