Nine independent MPs and Greens back UN call for Australia to ban fossil fuel advertising

<span>United Nations secretary general António Guterres used a special address on climate action in New York on Wednesday to ‘urge every country to ban advertising from fossil fuel companies’.</span><span>Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images</span>
United Nations secretary general António Guterres used a special address on climate action in New York on Wednesday to ‘urge every country to ban advertising from fossil fuel companies’.Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images

At least nine independent MPs and the Greens have backed the UN secretary general’s call for the Australian government to ban fossil fuel advertising and for media companies to stop accepting money to promote coal, oil and gas companies.

Many described fossil fuel advertising as greenwashing that damaged the climate, the environment and people’s health, and compared its use to steps taken by “big tobacco” before cigarette advertising was banned in 1992.

António Guterres on Wednesday called fossil fuel companies the “godfathers of climate chaos” and urged news and tech media to stop enabling “planetary destruction” by taking their money. “I urge every country to ban advertising from fossil fuel companies,” he said.

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Allegra Spender, the independent MP for Wentworth in eastern Sydney, said she supported Guterres’ call. “We have banned advertising from harmful industries in Australia in the past and we must do so again when it comes to fossil fuels,” she said.

“Fossil fuel companies are working straight from the tobacco industry’s playbook, greenwashing the damage they are doing to the environment with fancy ads and expensive PR consultants.”

Sophie Scamps, the MP for Mackellar in Sydney’s north, said “100% [fossil fuel advertising] should be banned”. “These companies try and build social licence by piggybacking on sports stars and similar figures. Their advertising is misleading and covers up the damage they do to the planet,” she said.

Zali Steggall, the MP for Warringah, also in Sydney’s north, said fossil fuel advertising should be regulated “in a similar way we do big tobacco. “Too often, fossil fuel advertising greenwashes the true contribution and harmful impacts the ongoing use of fossil fuels is having on our immediate health as well as longer term climate impacts,” she said.

Monique Ryan, representing Kooyong in Melbourne’s east, agreed. “As is the case with tobacco, the fossil fuel industry has used advertising, lobbyists, political donations and other forms of dark influence to delay government action,” she said. “The industry favours its own interests over the public interest, which is fine for most businesses, but not for an industry responsible for the climate crisis.”

Many fossil fuel companies operating in Australia advertise and pay for naming rights sponsorships in Australia. In the most recent high-profile case, Network Ten has faced criticism for accepting gas i ndustry support for its hit reality TV show MasterChef Australia.

The oil and gas company Woodside sponsors several sporting, cultural and educational institutions in Western Australia, including the Fremantle Dockers and children’s surf lifesaving. Shell is a naming-rights sponsor of the Queensland rugby league state-of-origin team and Santos sponsors the Wallabies.

News Corp’s sponsors for the 60th anniversary celebrations for The Australian include Woodside and Ampol.

The Guardian has had a global ban on fossil fuel advertising since 2020.

In his speech, Guterres revealed the World Meteorological Organization had found there was an 80% chance the planet would breach 1.5C in global warming above pre-industrial levels – a benchmark goal adopted across the globe – in at least one of the next five calendar years.

Andrew Wilkie, the independent MP for Clark in Hobart, said any measure that reduced dependence on fossil fuels should be pursued “because the industry is rapidly strangling our planet”.

“To that end I welcome the call from the UN secretary general for all countries to ban fossil fuel advertising. This might appear to some people a token measure, but I do believe that if it was implemented, it would help reduce the standing and influence of the sector,” he said.

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Kylea Tink, the MP for North Sydney and a former public relations executive, said she had worked in public health in the 1990s to restrict tobacco advertising. She said Guterres’ call was a “fair one and welcome” but “potentially naive”.

“We need a whole system restructure in how these products are being marketed and who they are being sold to,” she said. “The problem at the moment is not in the advertising, but it’s in the continued production of these products. I would hate to see a government make legislation to ban advertising while still enabling it to be extracted. That would be the ultimate act of greenwashing.”

The Greens’ leader, Adam Bandt, said it was “obscene to advertise a product that threatens all human life on Earth”.

Helen Haines, the member for Indi in northern Victoria, the ACT senator David Pocock and Zoe Daniel, the member for the Melbourne seat of Goldstein, also backed a ban. Daniel said she could not see “any possible reason” for advertising fossil fuels “given the importance of ending our dependence on the major drivers of global warming”.

Kate Chaney, the MP for Curtin in Perth, said a ban may be appropriate at some stage “given the increase in greenwashing we are seeing”. She said people were “wising up” to the fact “non-consumer brands”, such as fossil fuel companies, advertised to build their social licence when the legitimacy of their business model was in doubt.

“As people increasingly expect the organisations they deal with to reflect their values, fossil fuel companies will try harder to greenwash and will have fewer opportunities to do so,” she said.

Representatives for the climate change minister, Chris Bowen, and the Coalition’s climate change spokesperson, Ted O’Brien, did not say whether they supported a fossil fuel advertising ban in responses to questions from the Guardian.