Evie Barrett
Jun 6, 2024

UN chief calls for ban on fossil fuel ads to combat climate change

UN secretary-general António Guterres has directly called for PR agencies to stop working with fossil fuel clients, and ‘acting as enablers to planetary destruction’.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

In a special address in New York for World Environment Day today (5 June), Guterres (pictured) stated: “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.

“They have been aided and abetted by advertising and PR companies—Mad Men fuelling the madness.”

He continued: “I call on these companies to stop acting as enablers to planetary destruction. Stop taking on new fossil fuel clients, from today, and set out plans to drop your existing ones.

“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."

More broadly, the UN secretary-general called for a ban on advertising for fossil fuel companies, which he believes should be implemented by both media/tech companies and governments.

Duncan Meisel, executive director of Clean Creatives, an anti-fossil fuel campaign group for the advertising and PR industry, said: “UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ call for the advertising and PR agencies to cut ties with fossil fuel polluters is historic.

“Today is a turning point in the advertising and PR industry’s relationship with climate change and fossil fuels—there is no longer any cover for agencies to say that they are doing the right thing when working with polluters.”

Although Guterres has directly called for agencies to drop the controversial clients, it is not the first time he has addressed the general topic of greenwashing within comms.

In September 2022, he called out the PR industry for its willingness to “shield the fossil-fuel industry from scrutiny”, insisting that “polluters must pay” and stating: “We need to hold fossil-fuel companies and their enablers to account.”

This “includes the massive public relations machine raking in billions to shield the fossil-fuel industry from scrutiny”, said Guterres in his previous speech.

“Just as they did for the tobacco industry decades before, lobbyists and spin doctors have spewed harmful misinformation. Fossil-fuel interests need to spend less time averting a PR disaster – and more time averting a planetary one.”

The anti-fossil fuel movement within the advertising and PR industries has gained momentum recently. In April, Clean Creatives celebrated over 1,000 agencies signing its pledge to reject work with fossil-fuel companies.

However, the group has received criticism of its aims, including claims it indulged in “student politics,” to which Meisel swiftly responded in defence of its mission.

Campaign Asia

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