Edinburgh Science Festival to ban fossil fuel firm sponsorship deals

A seven-year-old girl examines a life like human brain at the Edinburgh Science Festival. Pic: Jon SavageA seven-year-old girl examines a life like human brain at the Edinburgh Science Festival. Pic: Jon Savage
A seven-year-old girl examines a life like human brain at the Edinburgh Science Festival. Pic: Jon Savage
Organisers of the Edinburgh Science Festival are to impose a blanket ban on sponsorship deals with fossil fuel companies - claiming the oil and gas sector is “not moving fast enough” to meet climate change targets.

They will sever links with firms backing the 2019 event due to feeling “increasingly compromised” by the conflict between accepting sponsorship from fossil fuel companies and programming events scrutinising climate change.

The move has been revealed days after activists in the “Science Unstained” campaign met organisers to protest about newly-announced sponsorship deals with ExxonMobil and Total for educational projects.

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The prospect of its events being regularly targeted by climate change campaigners threatened to overshadow the 40th anniversary of the Science Festival, which runs from 6-21 April.

Science festival director Simon Gage said: “We routinely review our sponsorship policy and recently decided we will no longer seek sponsorship from fossil fuel companies.

“With climate change issues 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 calls for a dramatic and immediate reduction in the amount of fossil fuels consumed if we’re to keep global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees.

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“This calls for a step-change in the way the world uses fossil fuel and the way companies that extract them operate. Whilst we see change happening in the oil and gas sector and appreciate the demands on them are complex, we’re of the view that it’s not moving fast enough to meet IPCC targets, and that there’s a conflict between their behaviour and the underlying science.

Climate change is an urgent threat of unprecedented magnitude. We’re committed to doing all we can to bring it to the world’s attention.”

The Science Unstained campaign had accused the festival’s organisers of “accepting money made from the wilful destruction of our climate.”

Activist Tara Wight: “Following a year of campaigning, we welcome the decision by Edinburgh Science.

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“By being associated with science outreach events, fossil fuel companies aim to clean up their image and present themselves as responsible organisations in alignment with scientific consensus on climate change.

“They’ve known about the science of climate change for decades but, instead of taking action, they’ve continued to expand and intensify the extraction of fossil fuels. 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.”

Ric Lander, divestment campaigner with 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.

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

Alex Staniforth, a Green councillor on the city council, said: “The programmes funded may have been valuable but the scientific evidence is clear - that the world can no longer afford to put fossil fuel companies’ profit before planet.

“The lead shown by Edinburgh Science is one all companies need to adopt and all event organisers need to follow.”

A spokesman for Exxon said: “We are disappointed that Edinburgh Science Festival is ending our longstanding sponsorship. Over 15 years we have worked together to encourage hundreds of Scottish schoolchildren to develop an interest in science, gain scientific qualifications and pursue fulfilling technical careers.

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“It’s sad to think that future generations will not benefit from this support.

“We focus our efforts on providing the energy the world needs, while simultaneously addressing the risk of climate change by reducing our emissions, helping consumers reduce theirs, and advancing research to find new low-emissions technologies.

“We support the Paris climate agreement and are members of the Climate Leadership Council, which advocates for a revenue-neutral carbon tax.

“These efforts are critical to addressing the challenges presented by climate change.”