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UN chief calls on governments to stop fossil fuel ads: Where are they already banned?

 United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Copyright AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, File
Copyright AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, File
By Rosie Frost
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António Guterres called fossil fuel companies the ‘godfathers of climate chaos’ being ‘aided and abetted’ by advertising and PR companies.

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UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called for advertising agencies and PR companies to stop working with fossil fuel companies.

“Many in the fossil fuel industry have shamelessly greenwashed, even as they have sought to delay climate action – with lobbying, legal threats, and massive ad campaigns,” he said.

“They have been aided and abetted by advertising and PR companies – Mad Men fuelling the madness.”

During a speech to mark World Environment Day in New York on Wednesday, Guterres declared that fossil fuel advertising should be banned in the same way that tobacco ads were banned because of threats to health.

“Many governments restrict or prohibit advertising for products that harm human health, like tobacco,” he said. “I urge every country to ban advertising from fossil-fuel companies. And I urge news media and tech companies to stop taking fossil-fuel advertising.”

The UN Secretary-General made the remarks during a speech where he announced new data from the World Meteorological Organization showing there is an 80 per cent chance the world will breach 1.5C above pre-industrial times in at least one of the next five years.

He labelled fossil fuel companies “godfathers of climate chaos”. The burning of oil, gas and coal is the main contributor to global warming caused by human activity.

A ‘turning point’ for the advertising and PR industry

Climate campaigners and experts in the advertising industry welcomed the Secretary-General’s call for a ban.

“Today is a turning point in the advertising and PR industry’s relationship with climate change and fossil fuels - there is no longer any cover for agencies to say that they are doing the right thing when working with polluters,” says Duncan Meisel, executive director of Clean Creatives - a leading anti-fossil fuel campaign group for the advertising and PR industry.

“Everyone knows this is wrong, and everyone needs to act. Over 1,100 advertising, PR and creative companies have already taken the Clean Creatives pledge to refuse work from Big Oil, and they are the true leaders on this issue.”

A Greenpeace protest calling for fossil fuel advertising to be banned in Europe in 2021.
A Greenpeace protest calling for fossil fuel advertising to be banned in Europe in 2021. AP Photo/Peter Dejong

But bans could go further than just prohibiting adverts that directly advertise fossil fuels.

Leo Murray, co-director of climate charity Possible and co-author of Badvertising: Polluting our minds and fuelling climate chaos, says it's time to take action against all ads that are “wrecking our future”.

“For this to have real impact, we need to think bigger than fossil fuels - which are relatively rarely advertised directly. The real fuel to the flames of the climate crisis are adverts for high carbon goods, from SUVs to long haul flights. We must see action on these too.”

Where are fossil fuel adverts already banned?

Some places have already banned fossil fuel advertising.

“We’ve seen a few brave local councils leading the way on this - now it’s time for national governments to step up,” says Murray.

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In 2022, France became the first country in the world to ban adverts for fossil fuel companies but critics have said the law doesn’t go far enough. Natural gas, for example, is exempt and the ban only applies directly to the promotion of fossil fuels. Companies can still sponsor events as well.

The law originally proposed by the country’s citizen’s assembly went much further by including adverts for fossil fuelled cars and air travel.

Similar bans are also being considered in Canada and Ireland.

Individual cities and councils have also introduced initiatives to ban advertising of oil, gas and coal. Fossil fuel adverts are banned in some spaces - including public transport - in the Dutch city of Amsterdam.

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More strict crackdowns on polluting could be on the way too. The city of Edinburgh in Scotland is looking to prohibit adverts for fossil fuel companies, airlines, airports, SUVs, cruise ships and petrol and diesel cars in council-owned spaces.

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