Activists call on Edinburgh Science Festival to end sponsorship by oil giants

The 2019 programme for the Edinburgh Science Festival reveals it continues to be sponsored by Exxon and Total

  • Demands from campaign group Science Unstained follow similar protests at the 2018 festival
  • Exxon has been accused of intentionally spreading misinformation about climate change
  • Total has been criticised by environmentalists after claiming a new North Sea gas field equivalent to 250 million barrels of oil

CAMPAIGNERS have demanded that the Edinburgh Science Festival divest from sponsorship by fossil fuel companies, following the release today [14 February] of its 2019 programme, which confirms that the festival continues to accept funding from Exxon and Total.

The campaign group Science Unstained, which has launched a petition calling for fossil fuel sponsorship of Edinburgh Science to end, argues that the deal with Exxon and Total – which activists have branded as two of 20 companies most responsible for global climate change – contravenes Edinburgh Science’s own policy on sponsorship.

According to the not-for-profit charity’s ‘ethical sponsorship policy’, the festival will, “in general”, avoid working with companies that are in “direction violation of international treaties, codes or standards associated with the protection of human rights”, “the extraction of fossil fuels or natural resources without carrying out any mitigation of negative ecological impact that could reasonably be expected”, and the “direct volition of international treaties, codes or standards associated with protecting the environment”.

In January this year, the US Supreme Court denied a request from the megacorporation ExxonMobil - of whose brands Exxon is one of the biggest – which would have hampered an investigation into whether the oil company had covered up the impact its products have had on climate change, confirming that ExxonMobil would have to turn over 40 years’ worth of documents to the investigation.

In December 2018, MEPs confirmed that that hearings will be jointly held this March by the European Union’s petitions committee into allegations that ExxonMobil spread misinformation about climate change, following a petition from fossil fuel campaigners demanding closer examination of what the company “wants to withhold from us now.”

READ MORE: Activists demand Edinburgh science festival cease ‘greenwashing’ fossil fuel companies

Also in January, Total announced they had claimed a new North Sea gas field equivalent to 250 million barrels of oil, drawing criticism from environmentalists and advocates of a ‘just transition’, who highlighted a recent UN IPCC report, which stated that the world must rapidly transition away from dependence on fossil fuels in order to avert catastrophic climate change.

In April 2018, a group of environmental activists disrupted the Edinburgh Science Festival exhibit EcoVille, which festival organisers had described as a “family-friendly low carbon village”, due to its sponsorship by the oil giant Shell, which the activists contend also has a history of covering up climate science, human rights violations and the company’s contribution to global carbon emissions.

Science Unstained are now working to pressure the festival to sever ties with both Exxon and Total and sign the Oil Sponsorship Free pledge which states “We do not take any oil, coal, or gas corporate sponsorship for our cultural work. We call on our peers and institutional partners to refuse fossil fuel funding too.”

The campaign group hope the organisation will follow in the footsteps of the Edinburgh International Festival, which moved away from fossil fuel sponsorship in 2016.

READ MORE: 'We need to stand up': The Scottish kids taking part in historic global school strikes

Science Unstained activist and PhD student Tara Wight commented: “It’s scandalous that Edinburgh Science is accepting money made from the wilful destruction of our climate. Climate science is clear that to avoid catastrophic climate change fossil fuels need to remain in the ground.

“Toxic fossil fuel companies have no place in our education and cultural institutions. We want to make sure that 2019 is the last year the festival endorses this anti-science industry.

“Edinburgh Science should follow over 100 similar institutions and publicly commit to an end to fossil fuel sponsorship.”

Speaking to CommonSpace, Edinburgh Science Festival director and CEO Simon Gage said: “Edinburgh Science regards climate change as arguably the greatest threat of our time to global ecosystems, as you could tell if you’ve been coming to the science festival for the last decade or you read this year’s programme.

“The 2018 IPCC report on climate change and timetable for the reduction in emission of greenhouse gasses is based on scientific evidence and we subscribe to it completely.

READ MORE: Watch: Activists' GCC protest wins them place on council climate emergency group

“In line with the IPCC’s findings, we also recognise that fossil fuels should not be turned off overnight and that oil and gas companies need to change rapidly to contribute positively to solving climate change e.g. by rapidly diversifying into renewables, investing in carbon capture and storage, replacing coal and oil with less damaging gas. The science festival is a place for all to debate how they should change.

“We will work with companies that demonstrate they are fully committed to meeting the IPCC timetable and we constantly review our relationship with sponsors.”

According to correspondence between Edinburgh Science and Science Unstained, Gage emphasised to the activists that the Edinburgh Science Festival is “a neutral platform for debate and discussion”, which provides “an opportunity for our audiences to question and contribute to the conversation about the challenges and opportunities we face as individuals, society and as a global community.”

Edinburgh Science has offered to meet with representatives of Science Unstained “to enter into a dialogue”, and “will make public any revisions to our ethical or sponsorship policies” that results from those meetings.

Picture courtesy of Mike Mozart

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