Should ads for fossil fuels and polluting cars be banned like tobacco?

Una bomba de extracción de petróleo en Texas (EE UU).
An oil extraction pump in Texas (USA). ANN SAPHIR

Two decades ago Europe debated whether or not to ban tobacco advertising in the media and to veto sponsorship of sporting events by tobacco companies. After several attempts and a multitude of scientific studies on the damage that tobacco caused to health, in 2005 this prohibition and the Member countries have been increasingly passing tougher anti-smoking regulations. More than twenty European NGOs and associations now intend to open the same debate but with fossil fuels and this Monday they began a campaign to collect signatures in the EU. “It is time to enact a similar law against the fossil fuel industry to protect the health of the planet and our future,” they defend. But they need to collect a million signatures in a year if they want their “European citizens’ initiative” to be considered by the community institutions.

In some countries the debate has already opened. Tatiana Nuño, from Greenpeace (one of the associations promoting this campaign), explains that the French climate law already addresses the issue of sponsorships. And some cities like Helsinki, Bristol and Amsterdam have limited advertising for fossil fuels and related products, Nuño adds. Some cultural institutions and the media are also rejecting sponsorships (the best known case is that of the British The Guardian ).

The initiative that was launched this Monday – which also includes Ecologists in Action, Friends of the Tierra and Fundación Renovables – urges the European Commission to “prohibit the advertising of fossil fuels and air, road and inland waterway transport services (except for transport services) by means of a“ legislative act ”. of general economic interest) that use fossil fuels ”. It is also proposed that “the publicity of any company operating in the fossil fuel market, in particular in the field of extraction, refining, supply, distribution or sale of fossil fuels” be removed. Finally, it is requested that “sponsorship” by companies operating in the fossil fuel market “or the use of trademarks or trade names used for fossil fuels” be prohibited.

“It is a very powerful initiative,” defends Nuño, who nevertheless recognizes the multiple pressures that may exist so that it does not succeed. In the case of tobacco, the ban on advertising was focused on a very specific product; now, with fossil fuels, there would be a multitude of products affected. For example, not only would the advertising of fuels be banned, but also that of gasoline and diesel cars. “But climate activism is now at its strongest,” defends Nuño. “And there is overwhelming evidence of climate collapse.” Fossil fuels are the main responsible for greenhouse gas emissions that overheat the planet, in addition to causing significant health problems, as the World Health Organization has just recalled.

The beginning of the collection of signatures to request a veto to the advertising of the fossil fuel industry has been made to coincide with the dissemination of an analysis prepared by the activists of DeSmog and Greenpeace Netherlands out of 3. ads posted by six European fossil fuel companies on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Youtube. These are the companies Royal Dutch Shell, Total Energies, Preem, Eni, Fortum and the Spanish Repsol. The study accuses these companies of carrying out a greenwashing ( greenwashing ), “since their advertising does not it accurately reflects their business activities, either because they place too much emphasis on their green activities or because they downplay activities related to fossil fuels, ”explains Greenpeace. In total, the report warns, only “the 16% of the advertisements of the investigated fossil fuel companies promoted oil , gas and coal, compared to the 80% that these six companies invest today in fossil fuels on average ”. That is, the advertising they do does not correspond directly to their activity.

The European Union is now embarking on the design of a strategy that allows the community economy to reduce its greenhouse emissions by 55 by 2030 with respect to the levels of 1990. For this, a legislative package is being prepared that includes a strong boost to renewable energy and a veto on the sale of new cars or vans that emit carbon dioxide, which in practice means banning gasoline, diesel engines, gas and hybrids. In this context too, the European Commission plans to launch a regulation this year that will set common standards for environmental information that companies make public. The objective, according to Brussels, is to make this information reliable and thus reduce “green laundering”, which the Commission defines as “companies that give the wrong impression of their environmental impact”. “The initiative should help commercial buyers and investors to make more sustainable decisions and increase consumer confidence in information and eco-labels”, defends the Commission.

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