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Greta Thunberg pulls out of Edinburgh Book Festival over 'greenwashing'

Swedish climate campaigner Greta Thunberg speaks as she takes part in a demonstration with activists in favor of the nature restoration law in front of the European Parliament
Swedish climate campaigner Greta Thunberg speaks as she takes part in a demonstration with activists in favor of the nature restoration law in front of the European Parliament Copyright FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP
Copyright FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP
By Ruth Wright with AFP
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She had been due to attend an event at the annual festival on 13 August.

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Climate activist Greta Thunberg has pulled out of a much-anticipated event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. She cited a sponsor's "heavy" investments in fossil fuel and accusing them of "greenwashing".

"As a climate activist I cannot attend an event which receives sponsorship from Baillie Gifford, who invest heavily in the fossil fuel industry", said the 20-year-old Swedish activist in a statement on the festival website.

Thunberg was due to speak at the event entitled "It's Not Too Late To Change The World" on August 13.

Tickets for the event, which was meant to take place in the 3,000-seat Playhouse theatre, sold out in less than 24 hours.

Why has Greta Thunberg pulled out of the event?

In a statement on the festival's website, Greta went on to say, “Greenwashing efforts by the fossil fuel industry, including sponsorship of cultural events, allow them to keep the social license to continue operating. 

I cannot and do not want to be associated with events that accept this kind of sponsorship.”

Thunberg frequently protests at fossil fuel sites, recently appearing in court for refusing to obey police at one such protest.

What was the festival's response?

British investment firm Baillie Gifford and festival director Nick Barley both defended their ties.

Barley said, “While I am disappointed that Greta will not be joining us on the 13 of August, I fully respect her decision. I share Greta’s view that in all areas of society the rate of progress is not enough.

However, in applauding Greta for standing by her principles, we too must stand by ours.

The Book Festival exists to give a platform for debate and discussion around key issues affecting humanity today - including the climate emergency. 

As a charitable organisation, we would not be in a position to provide that platform without the long-term support of organisations such as Baillie Gifford."

"The Book Festival exists to give a platform for debate and discussion around key issues affecting humanity today - including the climate emergency."

Barley added that they believe the firm is "part of the solution to the climate emergency".

Ballie Gifford, who have sponsored the festival for 19 years, denied being "a significant fossil fuel investor."

"Only two percent of our clients' money is invested in companies with some business related to fossil fuels," it said.

COVID-19 losses and a "traumatic" fall in ticket sales had left festival organisers banking on appearances from Booker prize winners and Thunberg to rescue attendance and finances.

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