Virgin Media O2, British Gas and Sky demand world leaders tackle climate misinformation

More than 250 companies have signed an open letter, which demands world leaders and tech platforms take action to stop the spread of misinformation as data shows the extent of the problem.

Major UK brands including Virgin Media O2, Sky, British Gas, Ben & Jerry’s and SSE have signed an open letter calling on Cop26 decision makers and technology platforms to take immediate action on stamping out climate change misinformation and “greenwashing” once and for all.

Led by the Conscious Advertising Network, a voluntary coalition of organisations on a mission to prevent advertisers from inadvertently funding harmful content online, the letter says climate change has reached a “crisis point”. The United Nations Climate Change Conference (otherwise known as Cop26) is a “key moment” in accelerating the UK’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, it reads, adding that it “cannot be threatened by misinformation”.

“The individuals, companies, agencies and civil society signatures to this letter demand swift and robust global action from Cop26 decision makers and tech platforms, to mitigate these threats,” it says. 

Specifically, the letter calls on climate decision makers to agree on a universal definition for climate disinformation or misinformation, for action tackling climate dis/misinformation to be included in the Cop26 Negotiated Outcome, and for technology platforms like Meta (formerly Facebook) and Google to implement climate dis/misinformation policies and enforcement that extend to content, algorithms and advertising, similar to the Covid-19 policies that have been published over the last two years.

The letter suggests that climate dis/misinformation is defined as “deceptive or misleading” content that “undermines the existence or impacts of climate change, the unequivocal human influence on climate change and the need for corresponding urgent action”, that “misrepresents scientific data”, or that “falsely publicises efforts as supportive of climate goals that in fact contribute to global warming”.

Over 250 companies altogether have signed the letter, including agencies, advertisers, ad tech firms, charities and research institutions. Individual marketers to have signed personally include GSK Consumer Healthcare’s senior media director Jerry Daykin, Virgin Media O2’s director of brand and marketing Simon Groves, and Sky’s group director, bigger picture, Fiona Ball.

According to a study by Newsguard and Comscore in August, $2.6bn was being spent at the time by big brands advertising on misinformation sites.

Recent research from Stop Funding Heat also found 113 ads on Facebook with messages like “climate change is a hoax” between January and October 2021, with an estimated spend of between $68,000 and $75,000 (or £42,000 and £55,000).

Meanwhile, the Global Disinformation Index has reported an uptick in disinformation every time a climate announcement was made in the lead up to Cop26, the letter claims.

Sky’s Fiona Ball and Suzie Rook, head of brand and design at SSE, say: “This is a moment when businesses, including Cop26 principle partners, SSE and Sky, climate experts, academics, campaigners and civil society are coming together to demand global action on climate disinformation and misinformation.

“Climate dis/misinformation is an obstacle in the efforts to keep 1.5 in reach and deliver real climate action. In order to fight it, we must have a common definition. The time is now.”