‘Toxic for your brand’: UN Secretary General calls for fossil fuel advertising ban

‘Toxic for your brand’: UN Secretary General calls for fossil fuel advertising ban

The UN Secretary-General has made his most impassioned plea yet for private sector actors to sever ties with fossil fuel companies, as he called on advertising agencies to stop working with coal, oil, and gas firms, and urged financial institutions to stop bankrolling the most carbon intensive companies.

In an address delivered at the American Museum of Natural History, Antonio Guterres called on advertising and PR companies to “stop acting as enablers to planetary destruction” through work with fossil fuel companies. 

“Stop taking on new fossil fuel clients, from today, and set out plans to drop your existing ones,” the UN chief said. “Fossil fuels are not only poisoning our planet – they’re toxic for your brand.

“Your sector is full of creative minds who are already mobilising around this cause. They are gravitating towards companies that are fighting for our planet – not trashing it.”

Guterres also called on media and tech companies to stop accepting fossil fuel advertising, and national governments to introduce blanket bans of advertising from fossil fuel companies, akin to restrictions on tobacco marketing that have been in place in many countries for decades.

“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 – the Mad Men fuelling the madness.”

The intervention has been welcomed by climate campaigners who have long argued that fossil fuel companies should be banned from advertising their products, arguing the billions of dollars spent on marketing carbon intensive products allow firms to launder their reputation and misrepresent their activities as they press ahead with projects that will breach international climate goals.

In his address, Guterres pointed out that fossil fuel companies had invested a “measly 2.5 per cent” of their capital in clean energy, as he urged firms to put more of their profits towards accelerating the clean energy transition.

The communications industries was not the only sector singled out for criticism in Guterres’ address, with the UN boss also calling on financial institutions to phase down support for fossil fuel companies. “I urge financial institutions to stop bankrolling fossil fuel destruction and start investing in a global renewables revolution,” he said. “[And to] present public, credible and detailed plans to transition funding from fossil fuels to clean energy with clear targets for 2025 and 2030.”

The report comes just a few days after a report published by the Climate Policy Institute and City of London revealed that investors committed to net zero in five leading financial hubs channelled just shy of £10bn into fossil fuel investments in 2023.

Guterres also appealed to citizens to redouble efforts to tackle the climate crisis, arguing individuals should play their part in the transition by embracing clean technologies, phasing down the use of fossil fuels in their own lives, and advocating for systemic changes that can accelerate the shift towards more sustainable business models.

He also praised the work of those campaigners and businesses striving to accelerate the net zero transition: “To young people, to civil society, to cities, regions, businesses and others who have been leading the charge towards a safer, cleaner world, I say: Thank you. You are on the right side of history. You speak for the majority. Keep it up. Don’t lose courage. Don’t lose hope.

“It’s ‘we the peoples’ versus the polluters and the profiteers. Together, we can win. But it’s time for leaders to decide whose side they’re on.”

Andrew Simms, co-founder of the Badvertising campaign, described the Secretary-General’s call for an end of fossil fuel advertising as a “game changing intervention” which builds on recent announcements from a number of European cities to ban on fossil fuel and other high-carbon advertising. “Badvertising campaigns for an end to adverts that fuel the climate emergency,” he said. “Now the most senior, independent global political figure is calling on the world to back this goal”.

Last week, Edinburgh became the latest city government to announce a crackdown on high-carbon advertising, as it set out a new policy to prohibit adverts for fossil fuel companies, airlines, airports, SUVs, cruise ships, and petrol and diesel cars in council-owned spaces.

James Ward from Adfree Cities called on governments to “end fossil fuel advertising and start the process of transitioning away from fossil fuels once and for all”.

“Fossil fuel advertising is everywhere – and we are all being duped by it,” he said. “Misleading claims from fossil fuel firms touting that they are part of the solution, and glitzy greenwashing that seeks only to confuse, are making us think that we can continue polluting and consuming as if the climate crisis wasn’t bearing down on us… Regulation is so far behind this issue that it is almost useless.”

Guterres’ wide-ranging address also called on policymakers to ramp up climate action, arguing politicians needed to needed to deliver “maximum ambition, maximum acceleration, and maximum cooperation” at the ongoing climate talks in Bonn, and later this year at the G7, G20, and COP29 Summits.

He pointed to fresh analysis from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), published this afternoon, which predicts global temperatures are highly likely to surpass 1.5C above pre-industrial levels for a full year between 2024 and 2028.

“We are burning through the budget at reckless speed – spewing out around 40 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year,” he said. “We can all do the math. At this rate, the entire carbon budget will be busted before 2030.”

The Paris Agreement commits countries to keeping long-term global average surface temperature “well below 2C” above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts “to limit it to 1.5C” by the end of this century.

Scientists have repeatedly warned that warming of more than 1.5C risks unleashing severe climate change impacts, including intense heatwaves, droughts, heavy rains, and rising sea levels, which could exacerbate hunger, conflict, nature loss, and make some small island nations and coastal areas uninhabitable.

Guterres said decisions taken today by world leaders would determine whether the Paris Agreement’s lower limit would remain within reach.

“The truth is the battle for 1.5 degrees will be won or lost in the 2020s – under the watch of leaders today,” he said. “All depends on the decisions those leaders take – or fail to take – especially in the next eighteen months. It’s climate crunch time.”

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Originally Appeared Here