Calling Time on Fossil Fuel Ads

Melissa Fleming
3 min readJun 18, 2024


Screen shot of news coverage around the June 5 climate speech of UN Secretary-General António Guterres

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called for a global ban on fossil fuel advertising. The step is both bold and urgently needed. We have no time to lose.

A few weeks ago, I had the honor of helping coordinate a seminal speech by the UN Secretary-General in which he warned that the world must act now to kick its dirty addiction to coal, oil and gas.

This time his urgent appeal contained a new element — a call for a ban on fossil fuel advertising.

The fossil fuel industry and their enablers have long been obstructing the transition to clean energy — seeking to deny scientific fact and delay urgent action.

But they are not acting alone. They rely on the support of an army of lobbyists, advertising and PR agencies — as highlighted by the world’s leading climate scientists in the latest IPCC report which mentions advertising regulation as a recommended policy measure.

These creatives help fossil fuel companies in greenwashing — framing their products as sustainable or lying about their green investments. (In fact the oil and gas industry invests just 2.5% of its profits in renewables.)

Investigative journalists, academics, and even a US Senate hearing has thrown up many examples of this in action. I’ve also been dismayed to learn that major media outlets are still selling space to promote fossil fuel ads.

Time is running out. We must catalyse tipping points for change — and that means doing all we can to revoke the social license of those who refuse to do the right thing.

We know what must be done — we’ve done it before, with smoking. We saw with tobacco how advertising restrictions helped shift social norms and influence lifestyle changes. Now we must do that with global fossil fuel use which is also incredibly harmful to human health.

We want to see fossil fuel advertising shut down around the world — and we aren’t alone. One recent survey found 40% of consumers in Europe, Canada, Australia and the US said they were in favor of a complete ban on fossil fuel ads.

The Secretary-General’s call for a global ban has landed in the advertising industry, and is being taken extremely seriously. The demand will be reiterated in the upcoming United Nations Global Principles for Information Integrity, launching later this month.

To the advertisers, the UN has this message: Ending work with fossil fuel companies not only benefits the planet. In your fiercely competitive sector, it is good for business.

There is a stark choice to be made: Pledge to end work with fossil fuel companies, and watch your reputation, your recruiting power, and your standing increase.

Or fail to act and prepare for mounting legal headaches and reputational woes that will mean you struggle to attract the best talent.

Worse, inaction will leave you on the wrong side of history, in a dead-end line of work. As the Secretary-General put it in his speech, “fossil fuels are not only poisoning our planet. They are toxic for your brands.”

Advertisers and PR executives have massive power — and responsibility — in their hands. That’s why we are calling on them to stop taking on new fossil fuel clients and set out plans to drop their existing ones.

By refusing to collaborate with polluters until they have transitioned to green energy, PR and ad agencies can help secure a sustainable future for our planet and its people.

News media and tech companies must also be part of the solution and stop taking fossil fuel advertising.

The next eighteen months are crucial. The world’s nations must submit new national action plans to meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement.

Let’s make this the turning point our world so badly needs. Let’s send a clear and powerful message to the fossil fuel companies and their enablers: Your time is up.



Melissa Fleming

Chief Communicator #UnitedNations promoting a peaceful, sustainable, just & humane world. Author: A Hope More Powerful than the Sea. Podcast: Awake at Night.