Fossil advertising persuades us to buy more and bigger cars, fly more often over longer distances and use more fossil fuels. Photo: © Jeppe Gustafsson / Shutterstock.Com

Time to ban climate-threating advertising

European NGOs push to prohibit advertising for fossil fuels, fossil-fuelled cars and air travel. Several European cities have taken the lead by introducing local bans.

Around 20 organisations in Europe  have joined forces to push through a ban at EU level on adverts for fossil fuels, cars and air travel. Last summer, a proposal for a ban was submitted to the European Commission as a citizens’ initiative1 with the goal of uniting the support of at least one million citizens within a year: fossil Fuel Advertising and Sponsorships ban.2 If this goal is achieved, the European Commission will have to take a position on the proposal.

The climate and the planet are now changing faster than mankind is. We know that emissions must be halved by 2030, but it appears that the emission reductions that were achieved in 2020–2021 will be offset by growing emissions in the coming years. There are no signs that we will meet the Paris Agreement’s target to limit heating to 1.5°C.

Many people, from activists and scientists to Pope Francis, Boris Johnson and UN Secretary-General António Guterres, are saying that we are in a state of planetary emergency – a global crisis. At the same time, the results of the recent COP meeting in Glasgow clearly show that politicians simply do not dare to implement what they have promised.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that what is needed is bottom-up change. Citizens, companies, municipalities and organisations must do what is within their own power. It was over 30 years ago that the phrase “think globally, act locally” was coined. This message is at least as relevant today as it was then. All consumption is local. All emissions, eradication of species, resource extraction and waste mountains originate locally, so we must take measures everywhere, but in different ways.

One of the biggest obstacles to these changes is the lifestyle advertising of fossil fuels, fossil-fuelled cars and air travel that we are all bombarded with. Advertising cannot be seen as an isolated communication between businesses and consumers; it is part of everyday life, in a context and in a society that allows itself to be influenced by it.

Almost 20 years ago tobacco advertising was banned in the EU and many other countries because this advertising led to more smoking, which in turn damaged public health and led to more deaths. As long as tobacco companies were allowed to advertise their products it was impossible for authorities to curb smoking. Since the ban we have seen a sharp reduction in smoking in those same countries.

In the same way, fossil advertising persuades us to buy more and bigger cars, fly more often over longer distances and use more fossil fuels. More people are dying today from fossil fuel emissions than from smoking.

But fossil advertising also stands in the way of the change in values and behaviours that are needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as necessary. Research shows that advertising promotes and strengthens values that lead to increased consumption and to the social normalisation of these values. Advertising has become the cultural sea in which we swim; it shapes our society and us.

Fossil advertising normalises a society with high greenhouse gas emissions and slows down change. Many of us naturally want to go on a weekend trip to New York or take a beach holiday in Asia when it is presented as not only reasonable, but also desirable and status-enhancing. And of course we want a big new SUV if the adverts tells us that this is the norm.

A ban on fossil advertising will clearly not be sufficient on its own to reduce emissions to a sustainable level, but it should be seen as an important part of the solution. In a scientific study, a large number of researchers, including Johan Rockström, point to a ban as part of a package that is needed to achieve the Paris Agreement’s target to limit global heating.

When advertising aims to preserve behaviour that threatens human civilisation and the planet’s ecosystems, it is clearly unacceptable. It is high time we banned the advertising of fossil fuels, just as the advertising of tobacco has already been banned.

Gunnar Lind
& Anna Jonsson

1 European Citizens' Initiative
2 Ban Fossil Fuel Advertising and Sponsorships

Local and national initiatives

Several cities in Europe have already taken initiatives to limit fossil advertising.

In December 2020, a decision was taken in Amsterdam to ban the advertising of fossil companies and airlines. Since then, advertising for low-cost flights and diesel cars has been banned from the Metro transit system and central areas of the city, based on voluntary undertakings.

The Hague
The Hague has also taken a decision to restrict advertising of fossil cars and air traffic at the city’s bus and tram stations.

The city’s politicians have agreed to remove advertising from public spaces by 2025, an initiative called “Zéro pub”. Implementation and regulatory frameworks will be developed in the coming months.

France is considering a legislative proposal to ban the advertising of fossil fuels, which can be found in Loi climat et résilience and was presented to parliament in February.

In January 2021, the city adopted a motion for a “Low carbon Advertising Policy”. The motion specifically mentions advertising for petrol and diesel cars, particularly SUVs, and for air flights. The city plans to revise its advertising guidelines based on this motion.

In June 2021, politicians in the city voted to limit harmful advertising and sponsorship in areas such as gambling, junk food, and environmentally harmful products. The policy is subject to amendments and has not yet been implemented.

North Somerset
In July 2021, a motion was voted through proposing the introduction of a “Low carbon Advertising Policy”. It is not yet clear which advertisements will be covered, but the motion specifically identifies advertisements for airlines, oil companies, petrol and diesel cars. 


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