Victory as Edinburgh Science Fest pledges to boycott fossil fuels over climate change

Science Unstained members celebrated Edinburgh Science’s commitment to reject fossil fuel sponsorship, 2 Apr 2019. Photo: Ric Lander.

The charity that runs the Edinburgh International Science Festival has announced it will no longer accept funding from fossil fuel companies.

Activists had promised to run a series of pro-science protest actions during the 2019 festival regarding funds the charity had accepted from Exxon and Total.

In a statement the Edinburgh Science Festival said “the sector is not moving fast enough to meet the IPCC targets and that there is a conflict between their behaviour and the underlying science.”

Their new policy states they will avoid taking funds from “fossil fuel companies and their primary trade bodies”, the latter referring to income taken from partnerships with the Scottish Oil Club.

Tara Wight, spokesperson for campaign group Science Unstained (3) and PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, said:

“Following a year of campaigning, we welcome the decision by Edinburgh Science to distance themselves from the fossil fuel industry.

“By being associated with science outreach events, fossil fuel companies aim to clean up their image and present themselves as responsible organisations that are in alignment with scientific consensus on climate change. Fossil fuel companies have known about the science of climate change for decades, yet instead of taking action they have continued to expand and intensify the extraction of fossil fuels, while funding misinformation in the media.

“Sponsoring educational and cultural organisations is a cheap and effective means of improving their public image while continuing to destroy the earth.

“The decision by Edinburgh Science to drop fossil fuel sponsorship is an important and necessary step for upholding their scientific integrity.”

The Edinburgh Science Festival faced protests for accepting sponsorship from Shell in 2018 and Science Unstained has been pressuring Edinburgh Science Festival organisers to change their policy in 2019. The group recently launched a petition and open letter, signed by scientists including Prof Kevin Anderson, Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

Climate change campaigners have been calling for organisations to cut their ties with fossil fuel companies regarding their overwhelming contribution to the climate crisis.

Already in 2019 there have been protests inside the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, who hosted a BP-sponsored exhibition, and in the National Museum of Scotland, who hosted a dinner for the Scottish Oil Club. The Edinburgh International Festival dropped BP sponsorship in 2016.

Elsewhere in the world campaigner pressure has seen the Van Gogh Museum drop Shell sponsorship and the Tate Gallery in London dropping BP. Globally over 1,000 investors have made pledges to divest from fossil fuel companies, including the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Ric Lander, Friends of the Earth Scotland said:

“Leading Scottish organisations are cutting their ties with oil, gas and coal companies because they can see that fossil fuel extractors are exacerbating the climate crisis. We urgently need big oil to get out of the way if we’re to secure a just transition to a zero carbon Scotland. As the first Scottish cultural organisation to explicitly reject fossil fuel funding, Edinburgh Science have made a crucial contribution to Scotland’s fight for climate justice.

“Anyone concerned about climate change should take heart from the Edinburgh Science Festival’s brave stand against fossil fuel pollution.”

“Campaigners attention will naturally be drawn to the Scottish Parliament role, including the Parliament pension funds’ investments in fossil fuels, and how the forthcoming Scottish National Investment Bank could be fossil free.”

Other groups opposing current Edinburgh Science sponsors have reacted positively to the news

Mim Black, Extinction Rebellion Edinburgh, said:

“This move from the Science Festival shows that it is possible and necessary to divest from fossil fuel sponsorship and affiliation. We ask that other cultural institutions also review their ethical standpoint on this issue, in particular the National Museum of Scotland, who host the annual Scottish Oil Club dinner, and who we targeted with the March 8th Rig Rebellion action. Legitimising fossil fuel companies as we face the climate crisis and ecological collapse already sweeping the globe is not acceptable.”

Martin Vainstein, has campaigned against Exxon’s Vaca Muerta fracking project in Argentina:

“Just a few days ago, Exxon beat the record for the biggest horizontal frack in Vaca Muerta. But that’s not all of it: a few days ago, an Exxon employee in Vaca Muerta died. Even more: the Vaca Muerta area poverty numbers increase even faster than national rates. While the National Government keeps pushing the Vaca Muerta project, and Exxon takes a big part on it, the IEEFA and even the Financial Times say that Vaca Muerta is a bluff, and that Argentina’s energy plan will take the country nowhere close to renewable energy sovereignty.”


Edinburgh Science, the charity which runs the Edinburgh International Science Festival, released a statement saying:

“We routinely review our sponsorship policy and have recently decided that we will no longer seek sponsorship from fossil fuel companies.

“With the issues of climate change ever present and urgent, we feel increasingly compromised by the conflict between accepting sponsorship from fossil fuel companies and programming events that scrutinise the main causes of climate change. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calls for a dramatic and immediate reduction in the amount of fossil fuels consumed if we are to keep global warming to no more than 1.5 deg. centigrade. This calls for a step change in the way the world uses fossil fuel and therefore the way the companies that extract them operate. Whilst we see change happening in the oil and gas sector and appreciate that the demands on them are complex, we are of the view that the sector is not moving fast enough to meet the IPCC targets and that there is a conflict between their behaviour and the underlying science.

“Climate change is without doubt an urgent threat of unprecedented magnitude and Edinburgh Science is committed to doing all that it can to bring it to the world’s attention through its festival and learning programmes.”

Science Unstained is a Scottish group of scientists, science lovers and concerned citizens campaigning for fossil free science. Formed in 2019, their main focus has been to call for the Edinburgh International Science Festival and its charity, Edinburgh Science, to reject sponsorship from fossil fuels

Free to use photos for journalists to use to accompany this story can be found here.

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