'Stop Mad Men fuelling madness'

António Guterres, UN secretary general

António Guterres, UN secretary general.

António Guterres, UN secretary general, calls out the advertising industry over the climate crisis.

I urge news media and tech companies to stop taking fossil fuel advertising.

António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, has backed the call by campaigns like Badvertising for the world to stop promoting its own destruction and introduce a tobacco-style ban on fossil fuel adverts - when many political leaders are distracted by other domestic and international issues.

The secretary general, in a special address in New York to mark World Environment Day, said the fossil fuel industry has shown "relentless zeal for obstructing progress" on climate action over decades. 

Like the tobacco industry before them he says they have been spending billions of dollars on "distorting the truth, deceiving the public and sowing doubt". He points out that last year the oil and gas industry "invested a measly 2.5 percent of its total capital spending on clean energy".


Then, in language which is highly unusual in the world of international diplomacy, he turns his attention to an industry which has so far mostly managed to avoid being revealed as part of the climate problem.

The secretary general highlights the fossil fuel industry’s use of ‘massive ad campaigns’ alongside their use of lobbying and legal threats. Sponsorship too, for example in the worlds of culture and sport, is part of how fossil fuel companies advertise and buy social acceptability.

The companies, he says, in reference to the popular television series about the advertising industry, "have been aided and abetted by advertising and PR companies – Mad Men fuelling the madness."

He calls on the ad sector to "stop acting as enablers of planetary destruction", and to "stop taking on new fossil fuel clients, from today, and set out plans to drop your existing ones". The creative minds of the industry should instead, he argues, turn their skills to promoting climate solutions.

The secretary general makes two other specific calls for action on governments and on media and tech companies.


On the role of governments he said: "I also call on countries to act. Many governments restrict or prohibit advertising for products that harm human health – like tobacco. Some are now doing the same with fossil fuels. I urge every country to ban advertising from fossil fuel companies." 

Then the head of the UN added: "I urge news media and tech companies to stop taking fossil fuel advertising."

Crucially, he points out that people are already ahead of politicians and raises the urgent need to reduce demand by "phasing down fossil fuels in our own lives". In the context of the speech and the need to reduce demand for fossil fuels, the logic of the call to ban fossil fuel advertising will also be seen to apply to dependent extensions of the industry such as the aviation and car industries.

In further comments that will be seen as a push back against governments who seek to criminalise climate campaigners, the secretary general praises the risks taken by "the academics and the activists, the journalists and the whistleblowers", who have exposed industry tactics. He finishes calling on everyone to "make your voices heard and your choices count".


In the UK where a general election campaign is in progress the proposal for government action offers political parties a relatively easy way to promote positive climate action, simply by removing additional pressure to consume polluting products and services. 

Ad bans will not prevent people from flying, for example, but they will reduce the amount of flying that wouldn’t happen with massive ad campaigns encouraging people to take flights.

This is a game changing intervention by the most senior figure in the United Nations. It follows the groundbreaking recent moves by cities internationally ranging from Sheffield in the UK to Stockholm in Sweden and many others to ban not just advertising from fossil fuel companies, but from other major fossil fuel polluters like the aviation and car industries. 

Badvertising campaigns for an end to adverts that fuel the climate emergency, now the most senior, independent global political figure is calling on the world to back this goal.

This Author

Andrew Simms is co-director of the New Weather Institute, co-founder of the Badvertising campaign, coordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance, an author on new and green economics, and co-author of the original Green New Deal. Follow on X @AndrewSimms_uk or Mastodon @andrewsimms@indieweb.social.

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