Too many adverts undermining the climate

It is almost exactly 17 years – though it seems longer – since tobacco advertising and marketing was banned in the UK. It is equally easy to forget that a reluctant Blair government was forced, finally, to act by a private members bill in the Lords by our then health spokesperson Tim Clement-Jones.

It was not right to let the tobacco companies outspend any government health messaging about the dangers of smoking – leading so many young people to an earlier grave.

So what are we to make of advertising now that undermines our expensive efforts to save the climate? Perhaps by advertising SUV cars as if they were good for the environment, when they actually clog the roads and clog the lungs of vulnerable children – making covid worse too?

I believe this might be an opportunity for Lib Dem councillors and campaigners to extend their campaign against cigarette advertising – and clearing their neighbourhoods of unsightly billboards at the same time?

What powers to local authorities have? Well, they certainly have some:

  • Over advertising billboards and screens located on council-owned land.
  • Over planning consent for advertising infrastructure – like the energy-guzzling digital billboards – and some advertising content.
  • Via passenger transport executives (such as Transport for London, Transport for Greater Manchester, Merseytravel, etc) which have control of advertising policies, and which are accountable to local democratic bodies such as Mayor’s offices.

About 1,500 local authorities in 29 countries have now declared a climate emergency. These declarations, taking place at every level of government, are leading to the development of local, regional and national climate emergency action plans.

But what goes in the plans? It makes sense to campaign on the adverse influence of advertising on efforts to address this climate crisis, and a route to including controls on advertising as part of these strategies.

Of all the cities in the UK, Lib Dem Bristol (as it was then) led the way on tobacco ad campaigning. Now they have a Labour mayor, but they are still at the forefront of this issue. Their One City Climate Strategy resolves to:

  • “[Develop] a citywide shared understanding and commitment to responsible consumption (including lower carbon food and reduced flying), which acknowledges the generally lower impact of lower income households; and
  • [Create] advertising standards and restrictions to support responsible consumption.”

This campaign is in its earliest stages – your own council may have acted on it (please tell me!). You can find out more here.

Or read about how they stopped advertising smoking.

Or get some basic campaigning info here.

* David Boyle is a former Lib Dem parliamentary candidate and the author of Tickbox (Little, Brown). You can buy the book from Hive or Amazon.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Little Jackie Paper 7th Jan '21 - 6:43pm

    That slippery slope gets ever more slippery.

  • Peter Hirst 8th Jan '21 - 1:42pm

    I’d favour a ban on adverts promoting greenhouse gas emissions or harming biodiversity with an appeal process similar to the junk food one.

  • Antony Watts 9th Jan '21 - 9:34am

    Come, buy an electric car!

    Well and good, but there are few accurate claims about this car or that. It’s still personl image that sells, not technology good for the planet.

    For example, did you know a BEV uses just 1/3rd of the energy to climb a hill than a petrol car as petrol engines are very inefficient? So we are distrbuting kilowatts of energy around the UK as petrol when we could save a huge amoutn by distributing electricity?

  • Tony Greaves 10th Jan '21 - 10:19pm

    Lots to agree with here but do not imagine local authorities can do much with planning powers since advertising consent decisions not made on strictly planning grounds will get overturned on appeal.

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