It has emerged that New Scientist have dropped the oil giant BP both as a sponsor and as a speaker for its upcoming event on climate change, ‘Creating a sustainable future’. Billed as “a day of inspiring talks and discussion with scientists and thinkers at the forefront of research”, the one-day conference is set to be a key event in the run-up to the COP26 climate summit, featuring high-profile speakers such as former Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC Christiana Figueres.
This significant change in direction by New Scientist came about after multiple speakers – including Dr Emma Garnett, Dr Harriet Bartlett and Dr Richard Lilley – withdrew from the event in protest at BP’s involvement and as a major backlash unfolded on social media. However, New Scientist has not yet confirmed whether it will now stop accepting all fossil fuel advertising and sponsorship.
Dr Emma Garnett, has said:
“I know that life is messy and full of compromise. I know that no institution or donor is perfect and there are always shades of grey. But I think the evidence is incredibly clear: how far we succeed in limiting climate change almost entirely depends on dismantling fossil fuel industry influence in our politics and culture. And this means no more fossil fuel sponsorship.
I’m delighted that New Scientist have dropped BP from this event and have no other fossil fuel sponsors or speakers. It feels like the tide is turning. New Scientist have absolutely made the right decision.”
News of BP’s involvement in the event had emerged in early August with the company being named as an official ‘stage sponsor’ for the event and, shortly after, BP Vice President Andy Lane was listed as a main speaker, talking about the company’s involvement in controversial carbon capture and storage technology (CCS).
Fossil fuel companies like have been widely criticised for overstating the potential of CCS technologies as a way of allowing them to continue producing oil and fossil gas but to address the issue of the huge emissions produced in the future. In November 2020, 41 leading scientists publicly busted 10 myths about net zero targets, saying:
‘[Carbon capture] technologies are being developed but they are expensive, energy intensive, risky, and their deployment at scale is unproven. It is irresponsible to base net zero targets on the assumption that uncertain future technologies will compensate for present day emissions.’
Shortly after the event was announced, BP’s logo was removed from the official event page although BP’s Vice President remained listed as one of the speakers.
However, BP’s branding continued to appear in mailouts to New Scientist subscribers and in the print magazine itself.
And as part of the ticket buying process, readers were asked if “our sponsor BP could let you know about the latest working they are doing on their path to net zero”. New Scientist was not just promoting the oil company’s brand but helping it to gather emails and data too.
BP’s “ambition” or “path to net zero” has been widely criticised for being a non-binding plan that is full of loopholes and opt-outs, and a plan that is not consistent with limiting global heating to 1.5C. You can read our full analysis and take down of BP’s net zero claims here.
However, at the beginning of September, BP Vice President Andy Lane was quietly removed from the list of speakers on the event page. Now, it has been confirmed that BP has been dropped entirely, both as a speaker at the event and as an official “stage sponsor”.
New Scientist has previously been criticised and faced protest over its decision to accept fossil fuel advertising, as well as take sponsorship from major oil and arms firms, such as Shell and BAE Systems, for its annual ‘New Scientist Live’ festival. It comes at a time when media outlets such as the Guardian have distanced themselves from the fossil fuel industry. It remains unclear as to whether the decision to drop BP from the ‘Creating a sustainable future’ event is a one-off decision or signals a shift in ethical stance by the whole of New Scientist.
Dr Chris Garrard, Co-director of Culture Unstained, has said:
“While the Science Museum continues to drag its feet over the issue of oil sponsorship, New Scientist has shown real leadership here by acting on the legitimate concerns of scientists. But if this is to be genuine climate leadership rather than just an attempt to just dampen down controversy in the run-up to COP26, New Scientist must now make a firm commitment to end all fossil fuel advertising in its magazine and oil sponsorship of its events.”
The Science Museum continues to come under huge pressure over its Shell’s sponsorship of its ‘Our Future Planet’ exhibition, from boycotts to overnight protests, and from revelations about the gagging clause it signed with Shell to a formal request from youth strikers’ to remove one of their placards from the exhibition. The Science Museum also continues to accept sponsorship from the Norwegian oil giant Equinor and BP.