Oil and gas giants are using Google's services to distract the public and undermine climate science with their misleading communication campaigns as COP28 in underway.

Big Polluters placed over 5,000 ads during first 5 days of COP28: Analysis 

Major oil and gas companies such as Aramco, Total and Exxon placed over 5,000 ads on Google and YouTube between November 30 and December 4, 2023

According to a new analysis on greenwashing fossil fuel advertisements on Google during the first 5 days of COP28, it was found that big oil and gas companies such as Aramco, Total and Exxon placed over 5000 ads on Google and YouTube between November 30- December 4, 2023. 

The researchers analysed fossil fuel adverts on Google’s revamped Ads Transparency Center. However, the tool provided such limited information, with the research team calling it “borderline unusable beyond a surface analysis”. Despite that, they found a concerning amount of greenwashing (based on textual claims), nature rinsing (based on the subtle imagery of nature), and woke-washing (appropriation of select demographics such as women and racial minorities). These ads aimed not only to promote oil and gas but also to portray a climate-friendly image for these companies. 

Lies, lies, and more lies

Saudi Aramco— the vast majority of which is state-owned —‘woke-washed’  by pushing gender equality themes in their adverts in multiple countries, including the UK, Germany and India. The Saudi Arabian regime continues to restrict multiple freedoms for women and girls within the country.

ExxonMobil’s “heavy industry with low emissions” advert in the United States features carbon capture and “clean energy from hydrogen” as key solutions to decarbonisation. The video places a woman of colour front and centre in the advert, despite the company’s management committee consisting entirely of white men until 2021.

The analysis found that BP pushed sustainable aviation fuel on LinkedIn, without mentioning that such fuels are currently viewed as a “myth…that won’t power climate-safe air travel” and currently constitute just 0.05% of total jet fuel consumption.

The ads by big polluters included “nature-based solutions” to “vacuuming out the CO2 from the atmosphere”. 

“Advertising and lobbying are both essential to the oil and gas industry’s toolkit for influencing policymakers. This research shows that despite Google’s bold promises on climate, the company continues to profit from misleading greenwashing ads during climate negotiations. We need real transparency of online advertising in order to prevent the spread of misleading greenwashing ads,” said Faye Holder of InfluenceMap. 

What is the responsibility of the Big Tech?

The analysis said that one of the largest Big Tech companies—Google— should be setting a better standard on ad transparency, especially as their Ads Transparency Center boasts about “a safe and open internet”. 

The researchers found that the tool provided limited information as there was no financial spend or view count available, data targeting is only available at the country-level and although custom time windows are searchable, on a per-ad basis you can only view “last seen”. This gives no indication of when an advert first ran or for how long.

They also said that the interface was a “nightmare” as they couldn’t  search or summarise by keyword but had to manually scroll through an advertiser’s back catalogue to find examples. Additionally, a lack of consistency within the tool meant that sometimes multiple brands are bundled into one parent company while other times they are presented subsidiary-by-subsidiary. 

While more than 90,000 delegates are discussing fossil fuel phase out at COP28 in Dubai,  the analysis showed that the oil and gas giants are using Google’s services to distract the public and undermine climate science with their misleading communication campaigns.

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