Fossil fuel lobby waged $4m disinformation campaign during climate summit, report finds

Fossil fuel companies spent $4m on climate disinformation, with majority of content originating from a US based PR firm

Stuti Mishra
Tuesday 24 January 2023 10:59 GMT

Cop27: Activists protest at climate summit and around the world

Fossil fuel companies spent millions of dollars on advertisements containing climate disinformation and greenwashing attempts when leaders assembled for the United Nations climate summit in November, new research has claimed.

A report by the Climate Action Against Disinformation (CAAD) coalition analysed fake information and misleading claims circulating online during the Cop27 summit in Egypt.

It found that a sample of fossil fuel sector-linked entities spent approximately $4m on Meta for paid advertisements to spread false, misleading claims on the climate crisis, net-zero targets and the necessity of fossil fuels prior to and during Cop27.

The analysis identified 3,781 adverts, the majority of which were from a PR group of the American Petroleum Institute called Energy Citizens, the report states. It also found that America's Plastic Makers alone spent over $1m and the Saudi Green Initiative ran 13 ads.

The report says there was a surprising increase in content related to outright climate denial, including a spike on Twitter for the hashtag #ClimateScam since July 2022, months before the summit began.

These adverts exploited issues like the cost of living to justify the use of fossil fuels, which remain the dominant cause of planet-warming greenhouse gases, and created false doubts about the reliability of green technology.

A broader scepticism over the climate crisis was also promoted through a “narrative playbook”, tying climate change concerns to “wokeness”.

The Independent approached Energy Citizens as well as the American Petroleum Institute for comment, but did not receive a response prior to publication of this story. In a mission statement on the organisation’s website, Energy Citizens described themselves as “passionate and determined to see our nation develop balanced energy policies that strengthen our communities, support our families and make our nation more secure”.

“The events of 2022 turbocharged a global ecosystem for disinformation,” said Jennie King, head of climate research and response at ISD. “Russia’s war in Ukraine and its impact on energy supply chains have renewed anti-climate attacks globally.

“State actors and lobbyists are attempting to ‘wokewash’ their opposition to climate action, and attacks on climate movements are becoming increasingly extreme,” Ms King added.

“The situation is hugely concerning and needs a coordinated response everywhere, from Big Tech to its regulators. At this pivotal juncture, tackling climate disinformation is an essential part of climate action.”

The loss and damage fund, a new financial facility for victims of climate crisis-induced disasters that received a green light at last year’s conference, was presented as “climate reparations”.

The report supports the growing concerns several climate activists and organisations raised during the summit over the rising denial of climate science and the influence of fossil fuel entities.

Cop27 was criticised for the presence of the highest number of executives from firms related to fossil fuels with the final deal failing to bring a stronger outcome in favour of the green energy transition.

It also comes as the United Arab Emirates, the host of this year’s climate summit which is set to be held in Dubai, announced Sultan Ahmed Jaber, a CEO of an oil giant, as the president.

“This research shows that climate disinformation isn’t going away and, in fact, it’s getting worse,” said Erika Seiber, climate disinformation spokesperson at Friends of the Earth US.

“Until governments hold social media and ad companies accountable, and companies hold professional disinformers accountable, crucial conversations around the climate crisis are going to be put in jeopardy.”

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