Advert ban tries to wean the Dutch off fossil fuels

Amsterdam’s metro network: No longer a billboard for fossil fuels. Image: Courtesy of Ban Fossil Advertising (Reclame Fossielvrij)

How do you wean the Dutch off fossil fuels? Well, you could always start by banning advertisements that promote them.

LONDON, 6 May, 2021 − Three days ago Amsterdam, capital of the Netherlands, “Venice of the North” (and destination of many travellers who appreciate a little something extra with their coffee), took a serious step into the future. It sought to wean the Dutch off fossil fuels by banning many advertisements for the pollutants.

The ban isn’t total − yet. But this prohibition of what are described as “fossil fuel products”, including air travel as well as fossil-fuelled cars, means the adverts will no longer be seen in Amsterdam’s subway stations.

The city says it’s the first in the world determined to keep fossil fuel advertising off its streets. Never before has a city decided to ban advertising solely on the basis of climate change, it insists.

The agreement about advertisements in its metro stations is the municipality’s first step towards making advertising everywhere in Amsterdam fossil-free. The Dutch capital is still investigating a wider ban on advertising, and on marketing festivals by fossil fuel companies such as ExxonMobil and Shell (or, to give it its original name, Royal Dutch Shell).

“We don’t have any time to waste. Adverts that portray fossil fuels as normal worsen climate disruption”

Ban Fossil Advertising (Reclame Fossielvrij) is a Dutch citizens’ group working for a nationwide ban on advertising by the fossil fuel industry and on adverts for polluting transport. Its co-ordinator, Femke Sleegers, said: “The decision to ban fossil fuel advertising from subway stations comes at a crucial moment in the fight against climate change.

“We don’t have any time to waste in working towards the Paris climate goals. Adverts that portray fossil fuels as normal worsen climate disruption and have no place in a city − or a country − that has complied with Paris.”

The decision by Amsterdam’s city council to start banning fossil fuel adverts followed pressure by Ban Fossil Advertising and 51 other local groups. The city’s public transport company, GVB, had already decided to sharpen up its advertising policy in order to keep greenwashing advertisements (when polluters falsely present themselves as environmentally responsible) out of its vehicles, after a call by Extinction Rebellion Amsterdam.

Ban Fossil Advertising is working for a nationwide law to cover the fossil fuel industry, modelled on the Dutch advertising ban on the tobacco industry, which is regarded by campaigners as an indispensable step in the fight against smoking. It is seen not only as a step which changed social norms, but as one that removed temptation. Today’s campaigners say an identical approach is needed towards fossil fuels.

Global pressure

Three more cities in the Netherlands − The Hague, Utrecht and Nijmegen − say they are open to a ban on fossil fuel ads. Similar moves are under way in a number of other countries in Europe, North America and Australia, some at national level and some in individual cities, with media backing in several cases.

A Canadian group, for example, the Citizens’ Initiative for a fossil fuel advertisement-free Canada,  urges Parliament “to demand accountability from the fossil industry and legislate a ‘tobacco law’ for oil, gas and petrochemical companies; a ‘fossil law’”.

This would ban adverts for Big Oil, air travel and cars with fossil fuel engines, with fossil fuel money used for marketing redirected into “an unbranded fund that helps the transition.” A similar initiative is under way in France.

In the US, the city of New York is suing three major oil companies and the top industry trade group, arguing that the companies are misrepresenting themselves by selling fuels as “cleaner” and advertising themselves as leaders in fighting climate change.

In the UK the Badvertising campaign is seeking to stop adverts from fuelling the climate emergency, and the environmental lawyers ClientEarth are urging policymakers to ban all fossil fuel company ads unless they come with tobacco-style health warnings about the risks of global heating to people and the planet. − Climate News Network