May 11, 2021

Oil company ads should carry a climate health warning, say activists

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 new research published Monday, environmental law non-profit ClientEarth accused some of the world’s biggest oil firms of misrepresenting the role their businesses play in the climate crisis and overstating the speed at which they are transitioning to clean energy sources.

“The companies most responsible for catastrophically heating the planet are spending millions on advertising campaigns about how their business plans are focused on sustainability,” ClientEarth lawyer Johnny White said in a statement. “Greenwashing is a problem because it can mislead the public about the true environmental cost of persisting with fossil fuels and twist wider public conversations on the climate emergency that stymy efforts to mitigate climate change,” he added.

ExxonMobil (XOM), Chevron (CVX), Shell (RDSA), Saudi Aramco, Total (TOT) and Norwegian state oil company Equinor are among the biggest oil companies for which ClientEarth has compiled dossiers that compare their climate pledges to their business practices. It said it is considering options for legal action against these companies. ClientEarth commissioned investigative media outlet DeSmog to research advertising by major oil companies. It then compared claims made in ads to information published in annual reports, regulatory filings and on company websites. The non-profit contends that firms make claims of “sustainability” while investing far more into fossil fuel exploration than into clean energy investments. Companies claim to be addressing the climate crisis while in some cases increasing fossil fuel production or planning to rely on the large-scale use of carbon capture and “offsets,” instead of reducing emissions in absolute terms, ClientEarth added.