UN: Ad industry must drop fossil fuel clients or risk ‘planetary destruction’

UN Secretary-General António Guterres says advertising and PR companies have “aided and abetted” fossil fuel firms to “poison” the planet.

Fossil fuels
Source: Shutterstock

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called on the advertising industry to stop working with fossil fuel companies immediately to prevent “planetary destruction”.

Speaking today on World Environment Day (5 June), Guterres urged every country worldwide to ban advertising from fossil fuel firms, and called on media and tech companies to stop taking money from such businesses.

Arguing society is “playing Russian roulette” with the planet and is headed on a “highway to climate hell”, the UN chief claimed the fossil fuel industry has “shamelessly greenwashed” using advertising.

Guterres said these firms have been “aided and abetted by advertising and PR companies – Mad Men fuelling the madness”.

As a result, the UN is calling on the ad industry 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,” said Guterres.

He suggested governments should restrict or prohibit fossil fuel advertising in the same way they would products that are destructive to human health, such as tobacco.

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.

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

“I urge every country to ban advertising from fossil fuel companies. And I urge news media and tech companies to stop taking fossil fuel advertising,” Guterres added.

Describing it as “climate crunch time”, the UN chief pointed to data from the European Commission Copernicus programme, which revealed May 2024 was the hottest May in recorded history.

“This marks 12 straight months of the hottest months ever. For the past year, every turn of the calendar has turned up the heat,” Guterres explained.

Almost a decade on from the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, which aimed to prevent global temperatures rising by more than 1.5°C, Guterres called 2024 a “moment of truth”. Indeed, he claimed the “battle for 1.5” will be won or lost in the 2020s.

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“Climate chaos will cost $38trn a year by 2050. Climate change is the mother of all stealth taxes paid by everyday people and vulnerable countries and communities,” he added.

“Meanwhile the godfathers of climate chaos, the fossil fuel industry, rake in record profit and feast off trillions in taxpayer funded subsidies.”

Duncan Meisel, executive director of Clean Creatives – the anti-fossil fuel campaign group for the advertising and PR industry – called the UN chief’s comments on the ad industry “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. Everyone knows this is wrong and everyone needs to act,” says Meisel.

To date more than 1,100 advertising, PR and creative companies have signed the Clean Creatives pledge to refuse work from Big Oil.

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