Which will be the first place to ban climate-busting ads?

Well, there is still all to play for – Labour Bristol has failed to be the first local authority to take a stand on advertising high carbon products like polluting SUV cars.

They have agreed to ban fast food advertising on council-owned advertising sites, like bus shelters, but they failed to follow up on the rest. They say they would need to go out for consultation on it and they fear ‘consultation fatigue’.

Apparently, the people of Bristol feel strongly about their children being lured into eating badly – important as that is – but not about what SUVs are doing to the climate, the space around them (many are now bigger than conventional parking spaces) or the air we all breathe.

It may be that Norwich, another Labour-run city, will now be first, because they are also now set to debate a climate-busting advertising ban. But there is now a chance for a Lib Dem local authority to be the first in the UK to put a proper policy into practice, and to follow the example of Amsterdam.

So, yes, I admit it: I am now involved in the Badvertising campaign, so I should re-emphasise: we are not asking anyone to choose to drive one kind of car rather than another. All we want is a ban on advertising cars – or anything else, like long-haul flights – that are actually bringing climate change nearer.

The data from the USA suggests that SUVs are a particularly egregious example. Sold as safer, they are actually more likely to tip over in accidents because they have a higher centre of gravity. Keith Bradsher of the New York Times suggested that SUVs kill more than 3,000 people a year in the USA, thanks to this flipover phenomenon and extra pollution.

Hopes were raised that Bristol might go first in the UK have now been dashed – though, under the Lib Dems, they were the pioneering city campaigning for an end to cigarette advertising. But what has been Bristol’s loss will be somewhere else’s gain.

What powers over advertising do local authorities have?

  • 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, 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, including some Lib Dem ones. This campaign is in its earliest stages – your own council may be acting on it (please tell me!).

You can find out more 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.


  • Brad Barrows 12th Mar '21 - 12:11pm

    I hate all this stuff. We seem to handling the climate emergency the entirely wrong way. If society believes that something is particularly harmful to the environment, its use should not be restricted to those who are better off or better informed – it should be banned outright. So if councils want to take a stand against SUVs, make it illegal to drive them within the council area.

  • Little Jackie Paper 12th Mar '21 - 1:16pm

    Slippery slope.

  • Brad Barrows 12th Mar '21 - 1:56pm

    @ Little Jackie Paper
    Agreed, though that point is also true of banning the advertising of legal products. I would be interested to read your suggested solutions to how we reduce damage to the environment in a way that does not reply on pricing ordinary people out of purchasing or using certain goods and services while allowing wealthier people to carry on polluting.

  • Brad Barrows 12th Mar '21 - 1:58pm

    Sorry… should say ‘rely’ rather than ‘reply’ above..!

  • >But there is now a chance for a Lib Dem local authority to be the first in the UK to put a proper policy into practice, and to follow the example of Amsterdam.
    According to the linked article “The adopted motion asks the municipality to investigate how ads and marketing events of the fossil fuel industry and for air travel can be banned from the street scene.”, so putting a policy in place would seem to be stepping ahead of Amsterdam.

    Why stop at SUV’s? The current advertising of electric cars totally ignores efficiency and encourage wanton use of electricity.

    Also from my perspective white goods such as the new energy efficient heat pump tumble dryers are less environmently and climate-friendly than the more traditional condensing dryers (the condensing dryers contain fewer parts and are relatively easy to DIY repair).

  • Little Jackie Paper 12th Mar '21 - 3:14pm

    Better still why not just ban everything?

    One response to covid and ecological concerns would be euthanasia centres. Why not set those up?

    I suspect that would be a better option than the so-called life the zealots seem to want for us.

  • Actually the tipping point is now very close (if not exceeded) for the total cost of ownership of electric cars to be cheaper now than petrol/diesel cars. And of course there is quite a big government subsidy on electric cars and some 80% of petrol is tax (indeed there’s an issue of a big tax hole as petrol/diesel cars are discontinued).

    On advertising – I am in two minds – but we don’t allow advertising for some legal products at the moment – particularly cigarettes. And all ads do have the CO2 emissions per mile for cars – even in small print – and there’s an argument to make this more prominent. And most electricity will be low carbon – increasingly so now (about half?) but definitely in ten years.

    One of the massive gains in the move to electric cars will be the massive improvement in air quality and so reduction in death and illness – particularly in urban areas.

    Without getting too hung up on the issue of advertising – there are of course a large number of things that councils and local lib dems can do and campaign for – more charging points, better cycling, walking and (lower carbon) public transport, low carbon and energy efficient council/social housing, more trees etc. etc.

  • Barry Lofty 12th Mar '21 - 4:50pm

    I suspect any source of power will have some impact on the environment exchanging one form of pollution for another, but I suppose people can drive their electric cars and ride their bicycles and feel morally superior, after all people buying diesel were treated as special not long ago with zero road tax?

  • The primary reason for electric cars, improving other forms of transport and decreasing “gas guzzling” petrol cars is not pollution but climate change. Either you think that climate change is a problem or not – and people are entitled to their own views.

    A massive bonus of electric cars will be improving pollution in towns and cities which is (still) pretty bad. Obviously anything generates some pollution but it is difficult to see that a solar panel sitting in a field or on a roof generates any pollution or indeed a wind turbine.

    People have individual responsibility. But at a population level we will respond as a population. And the decrease in consumption of cigarettes shows the effect of seductive advertising (or lack of it). And obviously manufacturers advertise SUV not out of charity to billboard companies but to get us to buy more SUVs.

    I tend to think that the better way forward is to improve the attractiveness of electric vehicles – and we have a £3k government subsidy on them but there are other issues such as increasing the charging network etc.

    As it is we are very close if not at the point where overall it’s cheaper to have an electric car rather than a conventional one. And interesting in Norway they now make up over half the number of cars sold.

    I love cars and they give immense freedom – but they are something of “tyrants” – and they can dominant too much and make bicycling and walking dangerous or difficult or unpleasant. And indeed I now realise that a car journey of a few miles is often better and quicker by alternative means. Not a question of “moral superiority” – and there is the added benefit of reducing obesity and improving health.

  • No, I will say somet 13th Mar '21 - 9:06pm

    My kind of liberalism is looking for opportunities for human flourishing. By controlling commercial advertising we can guide outcomes like reducing ill health or preventing bad choices that damage the planet. We DO NOT negatively affect, discriminate or bully anybody on a personal level. I say DO IT… we cannot be complacent about global warming, we’ve declared emergencies and now we’re watering down that term to mean something similar to “oh dear”. If it’s an emergency then act like it!

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