Ads by oil companies should include a warning about the health of the climate, activists say
A group of lawyers want oil companies banned from advertising on television and social media unless they include “tobacco-style health warnings” about the dangers fossil fuels pose to the future of the planet.
In a new study released Monday, nonprofit environmental rights group ClientEarth accused some of the world’s largest oil companies of misrepresenting their companies’ role in the climate crisis and exaggerating the speed at which they are moving to clean energy sources.
“The companies most responsible for the catastrophic warming of the planet are spending millions on advertising campaigns to show how their business plans are aligned with sustainability,” ClientEarth attorney Johnny White said in a statement.
“Greenwashing is a problem because it can mislead the public about the real environmental costs of insisting on fossil fuels and distort wider public discussions about the climate emergency that hinder efforts to curb climate change,” he added.
ExxonMobil, Chevron (CVX), Shell, Saudi Aramco, Total (TOT) and the Norwegian state-owned oil company Equinor are among the largest oil companies for which ClientEarth has prepared dossiers that compare their climate promises to their business practices. You are considering options for legal action against these companies.
ClientEarth hired the investigative media company DeSmog to research the advertising of large oil companies. It then compared claims made in advertisements with information published in annual reports, regulatory filings, and company websites.
The non-profit claims that companies claim “sustainability” while investing far more in fossil fuel exploration than in investing in clean energy.
Companies claim to be addressing the climate crisis while in some cases increasing fossil fuel production or planning to rely on widespread use of carbon capture and “offsetting” rather than reducing emissions in absolute terms, ClientEarth added.
Chevron, Shell and Equinor told CNN Business that their emissions reduction targets are in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Saudi Aramco said it has taken steps to reduce the CO2 intensity of its oil exploration and extraction activities and is investing in lower carbon solutions. “The technologies needed to meet the CO2 emissions targets have yet to reach the maturity level necessary to meet the world’s energy needs in an economically sustainable manner,” she added.
ExxonMobil and Total did not respond to email requests for comment.
In 2019, ClientEarth filed a complaint against BP (BP) in the UK based on the OECD guidelines on fair advertising practices for multinational companies. BP (BP) later ran an advertising campaign called Possibilities Everywhere and redirected the funds to support its net-zero ambitions. In 2020, the company promised to stop “corporate reputation advertising”.
Fossil fuel advertising should be regulated in a manner similar to tobacco, with “health warnings” about the dangers of climate change identifying fossil fuels as a major contributor to global warming, ClientEarth said.
Businesses should also be aware of how much they are spending on fossil fuels compared to low-carbon companies, and should be banned from directly promoting fossil fuels, she added.
Tobacco advertising has been increasingly restricted since the 1970s, with some countries even banning it entirely. Warnings about the health risks associated with smoking, particularly lung cancer, have been mandatory on cigarette packs in most countries for several decades. In some countries, unbranded packaging was also introduced, which Big Tobacco fiercely fought against.
The Paris Agreement aims to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. To achieve this, fossil fuel production needs to be reduced by about 6% each year, but current projections show an annual increase of 2% according to the Production Gap Report.
The International Energy Agency said in a report last year that if today’s power plants, industrial plants, buildings and vehicles continued to rely on fossil fuel burning, it would bring a temperature rise of 1.65 degrees Celsius.
Without a sharp drop in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, global warming will exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, leading to an “irreversible loss” of the most fragile ecosystems and persistent climate crises for the world’s most vulnerable people.
– Ivana Kottasová contributed to the reporting.