After coming under criticism in recent years over its prominent partnerships first with Shell and then BP, this year’s New Scientist Live festival – which takes place in Manchester this weekend – will have no fossil fuel companies as sponsors or exhibitors. This is understood to signal a shift in policy, after BP was also dropped as both a sponsor and speaker from a New Scientist Live online climate event last September when several scientists due to speak at the event withdrew in protest.
The arms company BAE Systems had previously been a lead sponsor of the New Scientist Live festival as well but has also not been listed for the upcoming event. However, another arms company, Thales, has been allowed to exhibit at the festival.
Described as a ‘Mind-Blowing Festival of Ideas and Experiences’, New Scientist Live was heavily criticised in 2017, 2018 and 2019 by scientists, climate and anti-arms trade groups, as well as some of its own contributors, for the prominence and platform it was giving to oil and arms companies. In 2019, BP and BAE Systems were the two lead sponsors, with BP sponsoring the ‘Humans Zone’ and BAE sponsoring the ‘Technology Zone’. BP was able to reach very large audiences of children and young people with its speakers and a bizarre BP-themed magic show.
Multiple petitions and protests, co-ordinated by groups including BP or not BP?, Campaign Against Arms Trade London, Campaign Against Climate Change, Scientists for Global Responsibility and Medact had also ramped up the pressure on the festival’s organisers to shift their stance.
Dr Emma Garnett, Sustainability Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge who pulled out of the New Scientist Live online ‘Creating a sustainable future’ event last September in protest at its sponsorship by BP, said:
“I am delighted that New Scientist Live appears to have changed their policy and will no longer be receiving fossil fuel funding. I understand it is difficult for organisations to turn away funding. However, it is vital organisations refuse fossil fuel sponsorship because these companies are polluting our discussions as well as our planet. I think the evidence is incredibly clear: how far we succeed in limiting climate change depends on dismantling fossil fuel industry influence in our politics and culture.”
Ultimately, in the face of criticism, New Scientist Live decided to drop BP altogether from the event, which was likely a precursor to their decision to end fossil fuel sponsorship of their flagship festival this spring.
Andrew Simms, Coordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance and Co-founder of the ‘Badvertising’ campaign said:
‘The connections between conflict, fossil fuels and the climate emergency become ever clearer. Every public endorsement of arms and fossil fuel companies through accepting their sponsorship protects those companies, and is like a wave of support for the chaos that both create. Saying no to such sponsorship is a statement of belief in the need for peace and to reverse climate breakdown. No media or public institutions should be taking money from the profits of war or lethal pollution.’
Genevieve Dawson, Senior Campaigner at Culture Unstained, said:
“New Scientist Live seem to have listened to the profound concerns of scientists and other partners, and done the right thing. It’s fantastic that young people excited and inspired by science will no longer have to be confronted by the logos of the very companies that are threatening their futures in order to enjoy this event. This should send a powerful message to the Science Museum that fossil fuel sponsors have no place in science education.”
Dr Stuart Parkinson, Executive Director of Scientists for Global Responsibility said:
“It’s very positive to see that New Scientist Live has responded to widespread concern about the ethical records of the fossil fuel and arms industries by ending its sponsorship deals with BP and BAE Systems. Corporations whose core business fuels dangerous climate change or human rights violations are not good bedfellows for science education events.”
New Scientist Live is a commercial company connected to New Scientist magazine, which has also faced criticism in the past for running a series of BP-funded articles, and placing BP’s advertising next to articles about the severity of the climate crisis. It’s unclear whether this shift in stance will also apply to New Scientist Magazine.
The news comes just two weeks after two major wins for the campaign against fossil fuel sponsorship, with the National Portrait Gallery announcing that it is ending its partnership with BP after over 30 years of the oil and gas company sponsoring the BP Portrait Award, and Scottish Ballet revealing that its partnership with BP no longer ‘aligns with the company’s green action plan – to be carbon neutral by 2030’ and that it had ended the deal on January 31.
The news intensifies the pressure on both the Science Museum Group and the British Museum to end their fossil fuel sponsorship deals, after most other UK cultural organisations have now cut their long-running ties with BP and Shell. The Science Museum Group has been heavily criticised by scientists, young people and Indigenous communities for its partnerships with four fossil fuel companies, most recently for striking a new deal with Adani, which is heavily involved in coal extraction in India, Indonesia and Australia.
The British Museum is also under pressure after Culture Unstained revealed that the Director is seeking to renew its controversial partnership with BP while just a few weeks ago, over 300 archaeologists came out in opposition to the possible renewal of BP’s sponsorship.
The shift in position from New Scientist Live comes as BP faces public criticism over the huge profits it announced a few weeks ago, generated in part from the rising energy prices that are forcing many UK households to have to choose between heating and eating, and its $14bn stake in Russia’s state oil company Rosneft, which it hastily announced it was offloading after Russia invaded Ukraine. BP is also continuing to invest millions in new exploration for oil and gas despite the International Energy Agency making clear that there can be no new investments in oil and gas exploration if we are to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. Last year BP, along with other major oil companies, was barred from sponsoring or having any formal role at the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow as its business plans were judged not to be consistent with the Paris Climate targets.