Proposition for an amendment in the new EU law ‘Empowering consumers for the green transition’

We have a proposition for an amendment to the Empowering consumers for the green transition through better protection against unfair practices and better information. It will not only protect consumers for misleading advertising, but also for advertising that promotes fossil fuel usage and is thus harmful.

We suggest the EP should amend the new law with the following sentence:

Prohibited: making a claim with the effect of promoting fossil fuels, fossil fuel transportation (save services of general economic interest like public transport) or highly polluting industries.

The time is now, because the European Parliament is presently drafting amendments to the new EU law ‘Empowering consumers for the green transition’. Amendments can be suggested until November 8th.

Although 6 of the 9 planetary boundaries have been crossed and many are suffering the consequences, there’s still no law to protect us from harmful advertising that exacerbates the crises. Heavy polluting industries are fueling climate and biodiversity destruction with advertising that promotes high carbon transportation and industries in a time we should desperately cut back.

Many cities in the world are taking the lead by banning advertisements for high carbon goods, services and industries from their public spheres. And in the Netherlands, two cities also included a ban on ads for meat from the bio-industry. This is a promising start, yet an EU law could provide the scale and speed needed to keep global warming below 1,5C.

A ban on fossil advertising – just like tobacco ads are banned in many countries – is a crucial step towards decarbonisation and a fossil fuel phase out. A ban on fossil ads will lower emissions and change norms, values and behaviour towards a positive social tipping point. It will stop deceptive advertisements.

A full ban on fossil ads
Consumer protection law has long prohibited misleading commercial practices, and European law already prohibits all tobacco advertising and sponsorship.

Our proposal will call to prohibit advertising and sponsorships that:

  • promote fossil fuels, like petrol, natural gas and diesel
  • promote high carbon transportation (air travel, cruise travel, cars with a fossil fuel engine, save services of general interests)
  • promote high carbon industries (“greenwashing”, image and issue advertising, “brand stretching”)Services of general economic interest refers to public transport. Highly polluting industries is the phrase used in EU legal guidance to refer to fossil fuel industries. This provision would prevent any advertising of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas, and derived fuels products), internal combustion engine road transport, kerosene-powered aviation, or fossil fuel powered shipping and any advertising, marketing and sponsoring by highly polluting industries (including “brand stretching” and misleading advertisements). It would not prevent the promotion of non-fossil fuel energy or transportation. Subject to the prohibition on misleading practices, a car company could still advertise electric vehicles.

Our proposed fossil ad ban will have the following effects:

  • Less emissions
    Advertising for air travel, cruise travel and high carbon cars means less burning of fossil fuel and thus less emissions. As 40-60% of all emission reductions must come from societal change, according to IPCC, a ban on fossil ads is crucial for the emission targets set by the EU.
  • Growth of sustainable norms, values and behaviour
    As advertising is very pervasive in our daily lives and has a strong effect through repetition on our unconsciousness, it has a strong effect on what we as a society consider normal and desirable. As long as fossil advertising, like advertising for airlines, are shown in public spaces, we will consider flying and other high carbon behaviour as normal. The case of the tobacco advertising ban has shown how powerful advertisings are, but also how powerful a ban on advertising is. Nobody will argue anymore that tobacco is harmless or that the tobacco industry is a force for good.
  • A ban on fossil advertising is listed as a Social Tipping Point Intervention

Because a ban on fossil advertising has the potential to shift norms, values and behaviour. Subsequently, his new behaviour is contagious on itself and it will have a self-accelerating effect in reducing behaviour-related emissions in society.

  • An end to distractive and misleading messages that cloud the climate issue
    Fossil fuel industry has a long history of deception. From paying scientists to raise doubt about climate change, to today’s misleading advertising that is – time after time – reprimanded by advertising ethical boards. Today, fossil fuel industries are still trying to influence the climate discourse in a way that allows them to continue extracting oil and gas. This has a huge effect op society, as it casts doubt about the urgency of taking climate action.
  • More public support for climate policy
    Misleading messages by the fossil fuel industry and airline companies lull people into sleep, because they make people think the fossil fuel sectors are leading us towards fast and fair green solutions. This will disengage people from changing their behaviour and making them more reluctant to support climate policy.

A growing worldwide movement

Recently France became the first country to ban advertising of fossil fuels, and after Amsterdam became the first city worldwide to restrict fossil fuel advertising, a number of cities across Europe, the UK and Australia followed. Over 340,000 EU citizens across European member states have supported a European Citizens Initiative for a fossil fuel advertising ban, which is supported widely by environmental groups. In Canada, Australia and the UK, health professionals are calling for a tobacco style ban on fossil advertising. Democratic climate assemblies in France and the UK have recommended bans on fossil fuel advertising. The IPCC, UN Environment Programme, Cambridge Sustainability Commission and other studies of decarbonisation pathways mention restrictions on fossil fuel advertising.

We believe that this will be a key opportunity to achieve effective ‘ex ante’ regulation of communication efforts by fossil fuel sectors which have caused so much delay and distraction from climate action and are still throwing oil to the fire, with terrible consequences for health and human rights. It is also needed for direct decarbonisation.