A UK environmental law NGO is saying the world’s fossil companies are perpetrating a “great deception” by marketing earnest climate action even as they continue to invest enthusiastically in a carbon-heavy status quo.
The hypocrisy that underwrites the world’s oil and coal majors became clear to lawyers at ClientEarth when they compared the advertising campaigns of nine of the biggest—including Aramco, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell—with their “actual activities and business models,” writes Forbes.
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Egregious case in point: even as it pledges its commitment to climate action, Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned fossil producer, “continues to open up new oil and gas fields, and is forecast to sell the equivalent of 27 billion tonnes of CO2 between 2018 and 2030.” Citing data from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Forbes says that output “amounts to some 4.7% of the global carbon budget.”
In a similar vein, ClientEarth cast Chevron’s “large-scale media campaigns about its environmental credentials” as classic cases of greenwashing: the American fossil giant “was found to have put only 0.2% of its long-term investments into low-carbon energy sources like wind and solar.”
Then there’s Royal Dutch Shell, dedicating “just 1% of its long-term investments to sources of low-carbon energy like wind and solar.” Meanwhile, the company’s emissions between 2018 and 2030 “could account for up to 1.6% of the global carbon budget.”
“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, lead author of the advertising study.
White told Forbes his group wanted to reveal the absolute disjunction between Big Fossil’s talk on climate, and it’s actual climate-busting action, offering a serious antidote to the uncertainty that the public, shareholders, and investors have felt to date about the slick ads the companies produce.
“By showing advertising claims alongside the reality of their activities, our research shows these adverts are misrepresenting the true nature of companies’ businesses, of their contribution to climate change, and of their transition plans,” he said.
At least one fossil company has already responded to ClientEarth’s so-called “Greenwashing Files”: a Shell spokesperson told Forbes that becoming “a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050, in step with society’s progress towards the goal of the Paris Agreement on climate change…is at the heart of our strategy.” Shell claimed that not only are its “short-, medium-, and long-term intensity and absolute targets” fully consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement,” those targets also “cover the full range of our own emissions and our customers emissions, not just from the energy we produce but also all the energy we sell.”
But ClientEarth is sticking to its data. The group is calling for “a ban on fossil fuel advertising, similar to bans that were imposed on tobacco companies in the 1990s and early 2000s,” Forbes notes.
“The public should not be misled, and fossil fuel companies must be accountable for the damage they do,” White said.
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