“The companies most responsible for catastrophically heating the planet are spending millions on advertising campaigns about how their business plans are focused on sustainability,” ClientEarth lawyer Johnny White said in a statement.
“Greenwashing is a problem because it can mislead the public about the true environmental cost of persisting with fossil fuels and twist wider public conversations on the climate emergency that stymy efforts to mitigate climate change,” he added.
ClientEarth commissioned investigative media outlet DeSmog to research advertising by major oil companies. It then compared claims made in ads to information published in annual reports, regulatory filings and on company websites.
The non-profit contends that firms make claims of “sustainability” while investing far more into fossil fuel exploration than into clean energy investments.
Companies claim to be addressing the climate crisis while in some cases increasing fossil fuel production or planning to rely on the large-scale use of carbon capture and “offsets,” instead of reducing emissions in absolute terms, ClientEarth added.
Chevron, Shell and Equinor told CNN Business that their emissions reductions targets are in line with the goals of the Paris agreement.
Saudi Aramco said it has taken steps to reduce the carbon intensity of its oil exploration and extraction activities, and it is investing in lower carbon solutions. “The technologies required to meet carbon emission goals are yet to reach the levels of maturity required to provide the world’s energy needs in an economically sustainable manner,” it added.
ExxonMobil and Total did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
Fossil fuel advertising should be regulated along the same lines as tobacco, with “health warnings” about the dangers of climate change that identify fossil fuels as the main contributor to global warming, said ClientEarth.
Companies should also be clear about how much they are spending on fossil fuels compared to low carbon businesses, and they should be banned from directly promoting fossil fuel products, it added.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, without a sharp decline in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, global warming will surpass 1.5 degrees Celsius leading to “irreversible loss” of the most fragile ecosystems and ongoing climate crises for the world’s most vulnerable people.
— Ivana Kottasová contributed reporting.