News 

Google prohibits ads promoting climate change denial

Google told The Guardian that it "recently launched a new policy that will explicitly prohibit ads promoting climate change denial", after the newspaper published an analysis of search results for 78 climate-related terms found fossil fuel companies accounted for more than 20% of accompanying ads.

Google prohibits ads promoting climate change denial
Photograph: Melissa Bradley on Unsplash.

Google added: "This policy applies to all advertisers, including energy companies and financial institutions, and we will block or remove any ads that contain violating content.”

The Guardian’s research, conducted in collaboration with InfluenceMap, analysed ads resulting from Google search results for 78 climate-related terms and found that one in five ads displayed (more than 1,600 in total) had been placed by firms with significant fossil fuel interests.

Jack Carbone, senior data analyst at InfluenceMap, said: “Google is letting groups with a vested interest in the continued use of fossil fuels pay to influence the resources people receive when they are trying to educate themselves.

“The oil and gas sector has moved away from contesting the science of climate change and now instead seeks to influence public discussions about decarbonisation in its favour.”

Many of the ads had been placed by oil company Shell, which appeared on 86% of the searches for “net zero.”

A spokesperson for Shell told The Guardian: “Shell’s target is to become a net zero emissions energy business by 2050, in step with society. Our short, medium and long-term intensity and absolute targets are consistent with the more ambitious 1.5C goal of the Paris agreement.”

The Transition Pathways Initiative, conducted by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, independently analyses and projects the suggested emission intensity pathway of companies, based on their pledges and targets. They clearly show that despite Shell’s assertions, the emission intensity of their product is not aligned to a 1.5 degree trajectory - indeed, it is still above 2 degrees.

Goldman Sachs, which facilitated the lending of nearly $19bn to fossil fuel companies in 2020, had the third highest number of ads. The bank’s ads emphasised its “continued commitment to sustainable finance” and appeared on almost six in ten searches for “renewable energy”.

Johnny White, a lawyer at environmental charity ClientEarth, told The Guardian: “Fossil fuel companies spend millions on incredibly sophisticated advertising campaigns, so sorting fact from fiction can be really tricky for the public.

“Damaging greenwashing has become endemic - to stamp it out we need to legislate bans on all fossil fuel advertisements, just like what happened with tobacco.”

Keep up-to-date with publishing news: sign up here for InPubWeekly, our free weekly e-newsletter.