Climate Crisis Fossil Fuel Advertising Policy & Regulation

Fossil fuel sector spent millions on ads to influence public during Cop27

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By Ellen Ormesher, Senior Reporter

January 19, 2023 | 6 min read

The Climate Action Against Disinformation (CAAD) coalition has revealed the scale of paid advertising climate disinformation detected around the United Nations climate conference (Cop27) in Sharm el-Sheikh.

Cop27 Sharm El Sheikh

Last year’s Cop27 in Sharm el-Sheikh hosted a record number of fossil fuel lobbyists / Unsplash

The ‘Deny, Deceive, Delay’ report, released January 19, reflects the efforts of the coalition’s Cop27 Intelligence Unit, which includes analysts from 18 organizations, having been led by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD). The unit tracked the most prominent false and misleading narratives posted to social media.

What did it find?

  • $3m-$4m was spent on Meta by the fossil fuel sector between September 1 and November 23, 2022.

  • Broader tactics have changed from climate denial to subtler forms of ‘delayism’ and ‘inactivism’.

  • A small number of groups drove the majority of false or greenwashed advertising on Facebook. These included misleading claims on the climate crisis, net-zero targets as well as pushing the necessity of fossil fuels.

  • The analysis identified 3,781 ads during this time. Many were from Energy Citizens (a PR group of the American Petroleum Institute), while America’s Plastic Makers alone spent over $1m and the Saudi Green Initiative ran 13 ads.

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  • Some organizations, including PragerU and The Heartland Institute, posted ads with active climate denial – for example, claiming that a ‘New poll debunks the 97% consensus claim about #climatechange’ or asking ‘Has environmentalism become a religion?’

  • Analysts also detected a surprising increase in content related to outright climate denial, including a spike on Twitter for the hashtag #ClimateScam since July 2022.

  • The term ‘Climate Scam’ was actively recommended by Twitter for organic searches of ‘climate’, often as the top result, as well as when ‘#climate’ is included within a post. This was observed during Cop27 and remains the case despite direct flagging by campaign group Climate Action Against Disinformation’s (CAAD) partners to the platform.

“This research shows that climate disinformation isn’t going away and, in fact, it’s getting worse. During Cop27, Twitter’s search engine pushed #ClimateScam as a top result without any justification for the data behind it,” said Erika Seiber, climate disinformation spokesperson at Friends of the Earth US.

“Until governments hold social media and ad companies accountable, and companies hold professional disinformers accountable, crucial conversations around the climate crisis are going to be put in jeopardy. To start, Twitter should offer an explanation of how this inexcusable climate denial trend came to be.”

What happens now?

The report emerges not long after Sultan Ahmed Jaber was announced as the new president for Cop28, making the next UN Climate Summit the first to be led by an active oil executive.

CAAD highlights that Cop27 saw record-breaking attendance for fossil lobbyists and that these developments set the stage for a greater spread of disinformation at next year’s climate conference and around other climate policy moments.

“Cop27 became the first conference where climate misinformation became part of the conversation among country delegations and leaders,” says Jake Dubbins, co-chair of Conscious Advertising Network. “Leaders we spoke to from countries Germany to Saint Lucia were all deeply concerned about the disinformation war. If the urgency of the climate crisis continues to be undermined by mis- and disinformation, then the climate action we all so desperately need will continue to be delayed to the point of no return.”

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CAAD is now calling on the US government, EU, UN, IPCC and Big Tech companies to acknowledge the climate disinformation threat and take the required steps to improve transparency and data access to quantify disinformation trends, to stop misleading fossil fuel advocacy in paid ad content, enforce policies against repeat offenders spreading disinformation on platforms, and to adopt a standardized and comprehensive definition of climate disinformation.

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