AUTHORS appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival are demanding organisers end their links with “fossil fuel companies” – and are threatening a boycott of next year’s event if there is no action.

More than 50 of the authors and event chairs taking part in this year’s festival – which gets underway on Saturday – have said that if main sponsor Baillie Gifford does not divest billions of cash, organisers should find alternative sponsors.

If this does not happen, all authors should “commit to boycotting the festival in 2024”, the group said.

Leading writers including Ali Smith, Zadie Smith and Gary Younge have signed the open letter to festival organisers, accusing investment management firm Baillie Gifford of “making huge profits from global disaster”.

They added that the firm was seeking to “hide behind esteemed cultural institutions, like the Edinburgh Book Festival, as sanction for its continued operations”.

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The letter comes in the wake of climate activist Greta Thunberg pulling out of an appearance at this year’s event, accusing Baillie Gifford of “greenwashing”.

The investment management firm rejected Thunberg’s claims that it invests “heavily” in fossil fuels, saying just 2% of its clients’ money was invested in the sector.

However in their open letter to festival organisers, the authors and event chairs said Baillie Gifford “has up to £5 billion invested in fossil fuel corporations”.

They stated: “These corporations fuel the climate crisis. They’re making huge profits from global disaster, and hide behind esteemed cultural institutions, like the Edinburgh Book Festival, as sanction for its continued operations.”

The group said they “stand in solidarity with all people harmed by the climate crisis, including people in the global south who have lost their homes, their livelihoods and been forced to migrate”.

The National: The Edinburgh Book Festival at its former Charlotte Square locationThe Edinburgh Book Festival at its former Charlotte Square location

They also expressed their solidarity with “people in the UK, including those whose homes have been flooded, whose health has been damaged by air pollution, and those who continue to suffer the dire consequences of corporate greed and political negligence”.

Yara Rodrigues Fowler, author of There Are More Things, said: “This summer has been defined by global wildfires, flooding and extreme heat: the climate crisis is here.

“In the midst of climate breakdown, Baillie Gifford is investing almost £5 billion into the cause of this crisis: companies that profit from the fossil fuel industry.

“Edinburgh International Book Festival allowing them to sponsor cultural events gives them a social licence to continue funding the destruction of our only home.”

Mikaela Loach, author of It’s Not That Radical: Climate Action To Transform Our World, stated: “Edinburgh International Book Festival wouldn’t burn books, so why are they OK with burning the planet?

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“Baillie Gifford’s whopping £5 billion in investments in corporations making money from the fossil fuel industry is unjustifiable in a climate crisis caused and exacerbated by these same companies who have invested more into climate denial and delay than they have into green energy.

“Edinburgh International Book Festival must stand by their ‘Climate Positive’ commitment and drop Baillie Gifford as a sponsor.”

Guy Gunaratne, the author of Mister, Mister, said: “In recent years the Edinburgh International Book Festival has gone a long way in facilitating conversations about climate and environmental justice, featuring some of the most prominent authors currently writing on the issue.

“For these conversations to go beyond words on the page, they must send a clear message to their sponsors.

“We call on them to show us that they truly understand the urgency of the situation, and its impact on people’s lives worldwide.”

Responding to the letter, festival organiser Nick Barley said: “We fully acknowledge your concerns about the devastating impact of fossil fuel exploitation on the climate – as individuals, and as a charity, we firmly agree.

“For these reasons, we promise to think about your letter carefully. The last thing we want is to let anyone give the impression we are on opposite sides.

“Just as we promise to listen carefully to you, we ask that you allow us some time to consider your comments. We’d also like to share with you the reasons why we have accepted this sponsorship agreement.

“Like all arts organisations in the UK, we wouldn’t have enough funds to operate without private sponsorship. We looked very closely at the work of Baillie Gifford and it seems to us that they are, in fact, investing in companies that are seeking to resolve the crisis.

“Those companies include Orsted, the Danish windfarm specialist.

“Orsted was mandated by the Danish government to keep two coal-fired power stations open until 2024 as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – and that is the only reason why a small percentage of their income still comes from fossil fuels.

"Surely the best place for such conversations is at Book Festivals like ours. 

"For that reason I'm proposing that we talk at the festival – with each other and with audience members who share the same concerns.

"Let's talk in the Authors' Yurt, in the bookshop, in the cafe and in the festival courtyard. Let's talk in our theatres too: I'd like to find a time when we can invite representatives from across the spectrum of opinion to come on stage and have a discussion which will be open to the public.

"We'll find a date when that's possible and you'd be more than welcome to join us.

"Can we talk?"