Sydney is now the second major city in the world, after Amsterdam, to tackle advertising for polluting coal, oil and gas. On 22nd August, the city’s councillors voted to prevent the promotion of fossil fuels on its properties and events.

The successful motion, put forward by Deputy Mayor Jess Scully, stated: “the City of Sydney should also investigate ways to restrict fossil fuel advertising and Council should not accept sponsorships from companies whose main business is the extraction or sale of coal, oil and gas.” Sydney accepts sponsorships for events, such as New Year’s Eve, and has one of the world’s largest outdoor advertising networks, seen by over two million people per week. 

Banning fossil fuel ads to tackle climate change and dirty air

The City of Sydney declared a climate emergency in June 2019, and Councillor Scully said she was proud to support a campaign that would ban fossil fuel advertising. “All of us remember those bushfires that we lived through, the toxicity in the air that we breathed in 2019/2020, and a real feeling that the reckoning was coming, that Australia’s history of being the third largest fossil fuel exporter to the world was now beginning to bear a really tragic fruit”, she told the meeting. 

“I think this is the moment we can draw a line in the sand and say ‘not here’ and ‘no more’ because we know that the people of the City of Sydney do want climate action, they do want us to move away from a fossil-fuel dependent economy and they do know that to do that we need to get rid of the whitewashing, get rid of the self-promotion that the sector is doing”, she said.

Councillor HY William Chan said that his city was showing leadership in its decision to ban fossil fuel ads. “We’re also asking the federal minister for communications to also pass national legislation that restricts fossil fuel advertising, similar to what they did with tobacco”, he said. 

Fighting industry greenwashing

Sydney’s move follows an open letter from more than 200 health professionals and organisations asking for bans on fossil fuel ads because of the devastating health and climate effects of burning coal, oil and gas. In April, Yarra became the first council in Australia to move to restrict the promotion of fossil fuels on council-run property, followed by Moreland in July.

Initiated by Comms Declare, a climate action coalition from the communication, creative and advertising sector, the campaign Fossil Ad Ban aims to achieve tobacco-style bans on ads and sponsorships for fossil fuels at local, state and federal levels. Founder of the group Belinda Noble said: “Congratulations to the people of Sydney, your streets and events may soon be free of the insidious promotion of toxic fossil fuels.”

“While we transition to cleaner energy it’s imperative that legacy industries are not allowed to greenwash their businesses or delay emissions reduction efforts”, said Ms Noble. “I look forward to working with the City of Sydney to help implement these restrictions and hope other Australian cities and councils will similarly prioritise the health and wellbeing of their communities by preventing the promotion of pollution.”

Fossil fuels claim more lives than smoking

Fossil fuels are ubiquitous in our everyday lives, meaning it might be easy to forget their harm. But globally, air pollution from burning fossil fuels claims more lives than smoking and is the world’s greatest environmental health risk, says the World Health Organisation (WHO). Every year, air pollution from burning fossil fuels claims between 2,616 and 5,700 lives in Australia – this is more than road accidents. During the 2019-2020 bushfires80 per cent of all Australians were exposed to dangerous air for months on end. Sydney’s air pollution is regularly above recommended levels. Moreover, the city’s residents face numerous climate change threats, including more intense heat waves, droughts, less drinkable water and sea level rise. 

CEO of Climate Action Health Alliance, Roland Sapsford, said that banning fossil fuel ads would bring regulations in line with other polluting and damaging industries. “Fossil fuels are hazardous to human health. From mining and refining through to burning, fossil fuels harm our climate and release toxic pollutants into our air, soil and waterways”, he said. “We restrict alcohol and tobacco advertising and sponsorship for health reasons. As leading health professionals have said, we need to bring the fossil fuel industry in line with other restricted products. Allowing fossil corporations free rein to promote their harmful products is the last thing people need on the journey to a healthier future.”