Thursday

23rd Sep 2021

Call for 'tobacco-style' health warnings on fossil-fuel ads

  • In its YouTube ads energy giant ExxonMobil suggests its experimental algae biofuels could one day reduce transport emissions - but the company has spent less than 0.2 percent of its total investment in biofuels (Photo: Roy Luck)

Environmental lawyers have said advertising by fossil-fuel companies should either be banned or come with "tobacco-style" health warnings about the risks their products and operations pose to people's wellbeing and the environment.

In a new analysis published on Monday (19 April), the NGO ClientEarth accused some of the world's biggest fossil fuel companies of using advertising to "greenwash" their contributions to climate change.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

In 2019, ClientEarth lawyers lodged a complaint against BP's "clean energy" adverts, arguing that they could be misleading, since over 96 percent of the company's annual spending is on oil and gas.

But the energy firm decided to pull its multimillion-dollar marketing campaign before the complaint was assessed.

Now the environmental NGO warns it is putting other fossil-fuel companies on notice for misleading advertising.

Their research compared the adverts of ExxonMobil, Saudi Aramco, Norwegian state oil company Equinor, Shell, Total, RWE, and other firms, to the companies' actual operations and products, as well as their overall climate impact and transition plans.

"We're currently witnessing a great deception, where the companies most responsible for catastrophically heating the planet are spending millions on advertising campaigns about how their business plans are focused on sustainability," said ClientEarth lawyer Johnny White.

"Instead of leading a low-carbon transition, these companies are putting out advertising which distracts the public and launders their image," he added, adding that the impact of these ads on the energy transition should not be underestimated.

The NGO is also calling on fossil-fuel companies to be more transparent in their so-called "sustainability" claims, arguing that they investing far more in fossil fuels than into low-carbon solutions.

"These companies need to stop suggesting they are part of the solution in their advertising, otherwise they leave themselves open to challenge," White also said.

Greenwashing?

ClientEarth research shows how, for example, Total ads claim that Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies are key for the company to meet its Paris Agreement goals, while the company's current CCS plans only extend to capturing five million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year - a tiny portion of Total's 2019 emissions of 469 million tonnes.

In its YouTube ads, energy giant ExxonMobil suggests its experimental algae biofuels could one day reduce transport emissions - but the company has spent less than 0.2 percent of its total investment in biofuels.

In 2019, ExxonMobil's operations produced 730 million tons of greenhouse gases - nearly the equivalent to Canada's entire emissions.

Meanwhile, Shell claims in its adverts to be investing in "lower-carbon biofuels and hydrogen, electric vehicle charging, solar and wind power" to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 - while the company is planning to increase its fossil-fuel operations by more than 50 percent in a decade, according to ClientEarth.

Shell has earmarked between $2bn (€1.6bn) and $3bn a year for renewables and energy solutions, compared to $17bn on fossil fuels operations.

The Dutch company says their targets are "fully consistent" with the 2015 Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global temperature to 1.5 degrees. Shell, together with Aramco, Chevron and Equinor, has rejected ClientEarth's criticism.

"Our target is to become a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050, in step with society's progress towards the goal of the Paris Agreement on climate change. That means continuing to reduce our total absolute emissions to net-zero by 2050 by working with our customers to change the energy mix used," a Shell spokesperson told EUobserver.

For a Paris Agreement-consistent scenario, it is estimated that global fossil fuel production must decline by roughly six percent per year between 2020 and 2030, although current projections show an annual increase of two percent, according to the UN Production Gap Report.

Commission: Pioneering Nordics' energy mix 'example' to EU

The Nordic electricity market is an example of successful market integration plus climate action, as the share of sustainable energy keeps growing, the European Commission said. However, the decarbonisation of the transport sector remains a challenge.

Investigation

How Energy Treaty 'shadow' courts prolong EU's fossil age

The treaty enables companies to claim billions in compensation from states in front of international arbitration tribunals, if they feel unfairly treated by the states' energy or climate policies.

Europe's Greens accuse EU of ‘greenwashing' stimulus packages

Green parties from across Europe have launched their campaign and manifesto for the 2009 European elections in June, calling for a 'Green New Deal for Europe' and accusing EU politicians of ‘greenwashing' their current, too-small stimulus packages.

Lead energy MEP silent on gas meetings before vote

NGO watchdogs have slammed the MEP leading the energy committee's work on the controversial revision of EU rules for funding major energy projects for refusing to disclose his meetings with gas lobbyists, ahead of a crucial vote next week.

News in Brief

  1. French ambassador to return to US after Macron-Biden call
  2. Borrell: EU needs armed force independent of US
  3. Polish region does U-turn on gay rights
  4. Johnson makes fun of French anger on submarine deal
  5. Ukraine vows 'tough response' after gun attack on top aide
  6. Poland again delays ruling on primacy of EU law
  7. EU to table emergency proposals on gas-price surge
  8. EU delays first set of anti-greenwashing rules

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed

Latest News

  1. More French names linked to Russia election-monitoring
  2. Negotiations set for new, tougher, EU ethics body
  3. Lead energy MEP silent on gas meetings before vote
  4. WHO makes major cut in 'safe' air-pollution levels
  5. EU negotiators defend high Covid vaccines prices paid to pharma
  6. The EU's 'backyard' is not in the Indo-Pacific
  7. French MEPs lead bogus EU monitoring of Russia vote
  8. Europeans think new 'Cold War' is here - but not for them

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us