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ClientEarth Communications

4th December 2019

Climate accountability

ClientEarth launches complaint against BP’s climate greenwashing adverts

Today ClientEarth made a world-first complaint against BP, claiming the oil giant’s latest advertising campaign is misleading consumers about its focus on low carbon energy.

We are also calling for all advertising by fossil fuel companies to be banned, unless it comes with a tobacco-style health warning about dangers to the planet and people.

BP has spent millions of pounds on its current advertising campaign, suggesting it is rapidly transitioning its business to low-carbon energy. We think this is greenwashing.

If you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that BP’s business model is still fossil-based with over 96% of the company’s annual spend on oil and gas. The emissions from burning BP’s products make it one of the world’s biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

Our complaint: What’s wrong with BP’s ads

Our complaint focuses on BP’s ‘Keep Advancing’ and ‘Possibilities Everywhere’ ad campaigns. Whether you’re in the UK, US or Europe, you’ve probably seen these ads in train stations, on TV or on social media. That’s because they are part of BP’s biggest marketing blitz in a decade.

In the ads, the oil giant claims it is “working to get energy that’s cleaner and better” and producing “cleaner-burning natural gas”. In short, BP claims to be changing its business and wants you to think that it’s part of the climate solution.

ClientEarth climate accountability lead Sophie Marjanac said: “BP is spending millions on advertising to give the impression that it’s racing to renewables, that its gas is cleaner, and that it is part of the climate solution.”

BP is an oil and gas giant and historically the fifth most polluting fossil fuel company in the world. But people seeing these ads may conclude that the company is moving its business to clean energy. We think that’s wrong.

We are demanding that BP pulls its ads because they are misleading. Claiming environmental credentials without substantially reducing its fossil fuel production is greenwashing. And that goes against the OECD rules on misleading and deceptive claims. We have submitted a dossier of more than a 100 pages of evidence to the UK National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines – which handles complaints like these – detailing why we think BP’s ads are breaking those rules.

Gas is not green, it’s a fossil fuel

In our complaint, we are also questioning the accuracy of BP’s statements around gas – which it describes as “cleaner burning” – as well as the company’s claim that gas currently plays only a supporting backup role on power grids, rather than displacing potential renewable energy generation.

Fossil fuel companies have touted gas as a ‘bridge’ fuel to ease into the transition to cleaner energy. But make no mistake – gas is a fossil fuel and a source of greenhouse emissions. It is mainly made up of methane that causes global warming when it leaks into the atmosphere, and emits carbon dioxide when it is burnt. Leading analysis shows that extracting more gas to burn is incompatible with the Paris Agreement, and that more effective and affordable renewable alternatives already exist.

Advertising: Fossil fuels are the new tobacco

Sophie added: “In the past, tobacco companies were able to mislead the public about the safety of their products. We see real parallels with fossil fuel companies and the tobacco industry, which knew about the risks their products posed but used misleading marketing campaigns to sell them regardless.”

The tobacco-style health warning we want to see on all fossil fuel ads should quote the IPCC’s warning about the dangers of continuing to extract and burn fossil fuels. This would make sure the public is not misled, and fossil fuel companies are accountable for the damage they do.

We acknowledge the assistance of students at the Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School in the preparation of this complaint. Read the whole complaint.