Lawyers take action against BP’s climate “greenwashing” advertising campaign

Wednesday 4th December 2019

Environmental lawyers from ClientEarth have today filed a high-level complaint against oil giant BP, claiming that it is misleading consumers about its focus on low carbon energy and solutions to climate change in its multimillion pound advertising campaign.

They are backing up the complaint with a call for a ban on all fossil fuel advertising unless it comes with a tobacco-style health warning about the dangers to the planet and people.

The lawyers have triggered an official complaints procedure against the fossil fuel company under the guidelines of the OECD, an international set of rules governing corporate conduct.

The legal complaint focuses on BP’s ‘Keep Advancing’ and ‘Possibilities Everywhere’ campaigns, its biggest marketing blitz in a decade. BP are currently paying for their adverts to be shown across billboards, newspapers and television in the UK, US and Europe as well as on social media and online.

ClientEarth climate lawyer Sophie Marjanac said the complaint features a dossier of more than 100 pages of evidence examining BP’s advertising and the impression it creates for ordinary consumers.

“BP is spending millions on an advertising campaign to give the impression that it’s racing to renewables, that its gas is cleaner, and that it is part of the climate solution,” she said.

“This is a smokescreen. While BP’s advertising focuses on clean energy, in reality, more than 96% of the company’s annual capital expenditure is on oil and gas. According to its own figures, BP is spending less than four pounds in every hundred on low-carbon investments each year. The rest is fuelling the climate crisis.”

Specifically, the lawyers are taking issue with the potentially misleading impression BP is giving by focusing on its renewable energy investments, given oil and gas makes up such a massive proportion of BP’s business.

They 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 backup role on power grids in support of rather than displacing renewable energy.

Also in question are BP’s assertions that increasing global energy demand, including greater use of gas in the coming decades is essential to human progress.

Lawyers say BP’s adverts do not tell the whole story about global energy demand. Climate scientists warn that global warming will reverse human progress and development and have catastrophic impacts on the world’s poorest. Scientists also warn that the world needs to urgently reduce emissions from the fossil fuel energy sources, like those BP sells, if the Paris Agreement goals are to be met.

ClientEarth’s complaint is calling on BP to cease its advertising campaign until it complies with the OECD guidelines, issue a correction and ensure all future advertising complies with the rules.

ClientEarth have also launched a campaign calling for all fossil fuel advertising to be banned unless it comes with tobacco-style health warning about the dangers to people and planet, given that other major polluters – such as Exxon and Shell – are also running high-profile marketing campaigns.

“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,” Marjanac added.

“Make no mistake, this is a climate emergency. You only need to see the increase in extreme weather events around the world – from flooding in the UK, to wildfires in the US and Australia. Meanwhile BP is doubling down on business as usual, running its biggest ad campaign since the Deepwater Horizon disaster to put up a shiny green facade for the public.”

-ENDS-

Notes to editors

Please see the accompanying FAQ document for full details about ClientEarth’s complaint to the UK National Contact Point for the OECD guidelines on multinational enterprises. A full press pack, including images, can be found here.

The OECD sets guidelines for multinational companies that relate to environmental communications and advertising. They state that the public requires accurate, clear, and comprehensive information to make informed decisions about the sustainability of their consumption habits and their climate impact.

ClientEarth’s complaint states that BP’s ads are in direct conflict with other provisions in the guidelines relating to disclosure of information; promotion of environmental awareness; and consumer education.

ClientEarth lawyers have requested BP:

  • Withdraw all advertising until it complies with the guidelines.
  • Make a public commitment that all future adverts will comply with the guidelines.
  • Make a public statement explaining the withdrawal or correction of its adverts. All ads must state the proportion of BP’s investment is in oil and gas versus ‘low carbon’ investment.
  • Ensure all future advertising include a warning that the use of the company’s oil and gas products creates greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change. All advertising must include the following text:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found that emissions from fossil fuels are the dominant cause of global warming. The IPCC warns that fossil fuel emissions must be halved within 11 years if global warming is to be limited to 1.5°C. Warming above 1.5°C risks further sea level rise, extreme weather, biodiversity loss and species extinction, as well as food scarcity, worsening health and poverty for millions of people worldwide.

According to BP’s latest reporting, the company is projecting total capex of $15-17 billion. Of this, spending on low-carbon investments will be around USD$500 million, which is less than 4% of the total. The rest of BP’s annual capex, which is more than 96%, is on its core business of oil and gas. In calculating its low-carbon business investment, BP lists it solar and wind projects alongside investments in biofuels, carbon capture and storage and carbon offsetting, amongst others.

Sophie Marjanac is an Australian qualified lawyer based in London.

About us:

ClientEarth is a charity that uses the power of the law to protect people and the planet. We are international lawyers finding practical solutions for the world’s biggest environmental challenges. We are fighting climate change, protecting oceans and wildlife, making forest governance stronger, greening energy, making business more responsible and pushing for government transparency. We believe the law is a tool for positive change. From our offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlin, Madrid and Beijing, we work on laws throughout their lifetime, from the earliest stages to implementation. And when those laws are broken, we go to court to enforce them.

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