More than 150 authors and books industry professionals including Naomi Klein, Robert Macfarlane, Emma Dabiri and Geoff Dyer have signed a statement calling on key literary festival sponsor Baillie Gifford to stop investing in fossil fuel companies.
The statement was written by the newly formed Fossil Fuel Books (FFB), a movement launched by the literary industry professionals who organised an open letter to the Edinburgh international books festival in August. Then, they were asking the festival to call on its sponsor, investment firm Baillie Gifford, to divest from fossil fuels, or otherwise to drop the sponsorship deal. Now, FFB is urging all UK literature festivals and prizes currently receiving sponsorship from Baillie Gifford to join them in calling on the firm to stop fossil fuel investments.
“To keep global warming below the critical 1.5°C – and so secure a liveable future – investment in new oil, coal, and gas projects must stop immediately,” the statement reads.
“Baillie Gifford currently has up to £5bn invested in the fossil fuel industry, including the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and Petrobras,” it goes on to say. “CNOOC is a shareholder in the East African Crude Oil Pipeline, which is already displacing people from their homes in Uganda and, if it goes ahead, will be the world’s largest heated crude oil pipeline. Petrobras is one of the top 10 companies for projected fossil fuel development and exploration this decade.”
Baillie Gifford sponsors a number of literary festivals, including the Hay festival, Cheltenham literature festival and Edinburgh international book festival. It also sponsors the UK’s most prestigious nonfiction award, the Baillie Gifford prize, which announced its 2023 shortlist last week.
Responding to FFB, a representative from Cheltenham Festivals said: “We take the climate emergency seriously, and we have centred it within our sustainability action plan. We welcome and encourage robust discussion of these critical issues for our communities, societies and planet. We are aware of previous statements that Baillie Gifford has made on its investments and our work relies on their support.”
A representative from Baillie Gifford reiterated its previous words: “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%,” the firm added. “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.”
Ellen Miles, author of Get Guerrilla Gardening and campaign organiser at FFB, said the group is specifically targeting Baillie Gifford because of the firm’s “unique relationship” with the UK literary industry, “due to its role as key sponsors of 11 literary festivals” as well as its nonfiction prize.
“It’s true Baillie Gifford aren’t the worst asset manager out there,” she said. “This is another reason we’re hopeful they will listen. Given that investments in fossil fuel companies constitute just 2.3% of their overall portfolio, it should be achievable for Baillie Gifford to divest from these initiatives, while continuing to support the UK literary scene.”
Miles stressed that FFB is “striving to work with these festivals, not against them”, and “we’re not pushing for authors to drop out of festivals”.
“Firstly, many of us can’t afford to drop out,” she said. “The speaker fee from these festivals is helping us pay rent and buy groceries this month.
“Secondly, we think it’s important to use our speaking slots to explain our position to readers and to continue to talk about climate justice.”
Miles will be speaking at the Cheltenham literature festival this weekend and plans to read the FFB statement at the end of her event.