Fossil fuel companies feel pressure to ban advertising

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As the campaign to include fossil fuels in tobacco advertising gains momentum in Europe, how will businesses and policymakers respond?

* Ban demand echoes campaign against tobacco companies

* Some European cities are already moving to limit advertising

* Fossil fuel companies claim their ads are contributing to the climate debate

By Arthur Neslen

BRUSSELS, Oct. 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The push for a Europe-wide ban on advertising and sponsorship by fossil fuel companies is the boldest salvo to date in a campaign led by environmentalists who accuse oil companies of “greenwashing” and a past of climate-sapping change science.

Just as the tobacco industry has been punished with advertising bans amid allegations it covers up the harmful effects of smoking, Greenpeace and 20 other green groups are demanding an end to advertisements for coal, oil and gas companies. gas companies, automakers and airlines.

“Fossil fuel companies have also copied the strategies of tobacco companies when they fueled climate denial,” said Bas Eickhout, Dutch Green MEP and vice-chair of the European Parliament’s environment committee.

“It’s time to copy what has been done with the cigarette ads.”

Greenpeace and 20 other green groups have launched the ‘European Citizens’ Initiative’ with the aim of reducing advertising for climate-warming fossil fuel companies – whether online, in newspapers or on billboards .

If their petition calling for a ban gets a million signatures, the European Commission will have to consider tabling a new law.

In the same way that some tobacco companies have fought advertising restrictions around the world, industry experts have suggested that fossil fuel companies may initially take a combative stance on advertising restrictions.

“Advertising bans are blunt instruments that rarely achieve their goal,” said Stephan Loerke, managing director of the World Federation of Advertisers, which has fossil fuel companies among its members.

“They can also restrict the ability of companies to bring to market and develop cleaner energy options, and this should be encouraged,” he added.

The secretary general of the European Business Aviation Association, Athar Husain Khan, said the industry should be exempt from any bans because it is committed to biofuels and carbon offsetting, and has provided a “clear benefit to society”.

Oil major Shell said to develop its greener options it needs to educate customers on “low carbon solutions that we are currently offering or are developing so that they can change when the time is right,” a door said. -speak.

Likewise, spokeswoman for Finnish energy company Fortum, Elina Kokko, said her ad was aimed at “driving change for a greener world”.

“An advertising ban would reduce (…) the visibility of climate change itself and the role of energy companies in mitigating it,” she said, adding that a ban would likely affect “brand awareness. “from Fortum.

‘ESSENTIAL MOMENT’

But measures to reduce the advertising of fossil fuel-dependent businesses are already underway, suggesting that new restrictions could be introduced as governments grapple with public demands for stronger action to tackle climate change.

“The momentum for a complete ban on fossil fuel advertising and sponsorship in Europe is starting to seem unstoppable,” Yannick Jadot, the French environmental candidate for next year’s presidential election, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Sixteen NGOs in Brussels announced a boycott of media events sponsored by fossil fuel companies in September, after Britain’s Guardian newspaper disowned ads by coal, gas and oil companies in 2020.

Fossil fuel ads were banned in Amsterdam’s metro and city center last December, while a similar ban was proposed by Social Democrats on Stockholm City Council in Sweden.

A French climate and resilience bill would also tighten restrictions on advertising on fossil fuels, which climate activists say is fraught with “greenwashing”.

Analysis commissioned by Greenpeace found that 63% of ads from six fossil fuel companies surveyed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube between December 2019 and April 2021 contained misleading information about their green credentials.

Shell, Fortum and Sweden’s largest oil refiner, Preem, were named the worst offenders, each devoting 81% of their advertisements reviewed to overstating efforts to protect the environment.

France’s TotalEnergies, which was also among the companies polled, said renewables would account for nearly a quarter of its investments over the next four years.

“Calling it ‘greenwashing’ doesn’t seem appropriate, does it? Said spokesperson Ornela Bore.

Loerke suggested, however, that oil companies might be willing to reconsider their approach to advertising in light of the growing pressure on the issue.

“The industry is currently reviewing best practices in this area and we expect there will be increased monitoring in the coming months, especially with the regulatory proposals expected from the EU,” he said. .

A legislative proposal from the Commission encouraging companies to justify their environmental claims is expected in December.

Tamara Daltroff, chief executive of the European Association of Communication Agencies, warned that an outright ban could cause collateral damage.

“Independent media are often funded by advertising and any restrictions or bans could have unintended consequences for media pluralism and democracy,” she said.

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(Reporting by Arthur Neslen; editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http: // news. trust .org)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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