A nominee for a VisitScotland award for work on climate change is boycotting the tourism board’s annual award ceremony over its financial links to fossil fuels, which were revealed by The Ferret.
East Lothian Cottages – a business offering self catering accommodation near Haddington – was praised for being an “outstanding example” of how business can “help look after the planet” by judges when it scooped a regional VisitScotland prize for climate action in September.
But its owner – Andrew Watson – now says he will return that prize and boycott tonight’s nationwide Scottish Thistle Awards ceremony. He accused the tourist board of “knowingly funding the expansion of the fossil fuel industry” through one of its pension schemes.
VisitScotland offers three separate pension schemes to employees, including the Lothian Pension Fund (LPF), which is administered by the City of Edinburgh council.
As previously reported by The Ferret, LPF has multi million pound holdings in oil giants, including Shell, BP, and Equinor – the Norwegian company behind the controversial Rosebank oil and gas field in the North Sea.
A VisitScotland spokesperson said it had “no direct means to determine investment decisions” by LPF but had written to the fund to “ask for more information on how it will address the climate emergency”.
However Watson claimed that by offering LPF as a pension scheme, VisitScotland was “inviting its employees to profit from the destruction of the very asset it is their job to promote”.
“VisitScotland has a statutory obligation to offer employees a local government pension scheme,” he said. “But they have no obligation to accept that scheme’s policy of funding fossil fuel expansion.”
Watson added that he had repeatedly questioned VisitScotland’s position on LPF’s fossil fuel investments, but “they remain unwilling to rule out continuing support for fossil fuel expansion”.
“Those attending the Thistle Awards tonight deserve all the recognition they get but, when it comes to climate action, we can’t in good conscience be complicit in VisitScotland’s hypocrisy,” he said. “We’re therefore returning our regional climate action award, and are boycotting the national finals.”
However research found in October that LPF had at least £350m invested in the fossil fuel industry. We revealed earlier this year that the fund had a hidden stake in a Czech firm which runs coal power plants and a pipeline which ships Russian natural gas into Europe.
The Ferret also found in January 2023 that the fund invests in firms who are still operating in Russia despite its invasion of Ukraine.
A VisitScotland spokesperson said the body takes its responsibility to the climate “seriously”.
They added: “We have no direct means to determine investment decisions by the Lothian Pension Fund but have written to the scheme to ask for more information on how it will address the climate emergency.
The response from LPF explains how its investment strategy seeks to align with the Paris goals. It has also outlined its ambition to have a credible transition plan for its holdings in place by 2025 to support the goal of transitioning the real economy to net zero by 2050.”
Lothian Pension Fund declined to comment.
Image thanks to iStock/Leonid Ikan