France says non to fossil fuel advertising

When I was a child you could still advertise tobacco products, and I remember magazines and billboards with Joe Camel or the Marlborough man. Opportunities to tout cigarettes and other causes of early death were slowly restricted, and it’s now been 20 years since any tobacco billboard has appeared in the UK.

The same will happen with fossil fuels. Not under this Conversative government, mind you, but eventually. In time, we will stop actively promoting the primary cause of planetary destruction and climate injustice. And we can see what those restrictions might look like by noticing what our neighbours are doing across the channel. This summer France brought in a new ban on oil company advertising. A handful of places are doing this on a regional basis, but I think this is the first time there’s been a national ban – let me know if I’ve missed one.

Interestingly, a ban on fossil fuel advertising was one of the ideas that came out of France’s citizen’s assembly on climate change. It has now been implemented for oil and coal, with slightly different rules on gas to follow next year. The government declined the assembly’s suggestion to ban all avertising for petrol cars and aviation as well.

As with tobacco, this is best seen as the beginning of a process rather than a black and white ban. Just as tobacco companies were able to keep their brands visible through sponsorship long after the advertising ban, French citizens can expect to see plenty of oil company logos in museums, galleries and sporting events for a while. Total are big sponsors of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, for example. Still, it’s a step in the right direction.

With France as a high profile case study, now might be a good time to press for local campaigns to ban fossil fuel advertising. If you can get a petition going in your town, you’d be joining a growing list of places looking into taking fossil fuel ads off the streets – including Bristol, Liverpool, Stockholm, Amsterdam, New York and Sydney.

There are other options too. The Guardian is the only newspaper that won’t run fossil fuel ads. Who’s next? Which of the big advertising agencies will be the first to drop a fossil fuel client? Any museums or art galleries willing to ditch their greenwashing paymasters? Even without leadership from government, there are ways to withdraw the social licence to promote our own self-destruction.

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