Oil and gas industry campaign challenged for being misleading and worse

Contributed by Jim Hayes

Campaigners against the fossil fuel industry have taken issue with the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association’s (Appea) advertising campaign to convince Australia that gas is a green furl because it is 50 percent cleaner than coal, and essential to lowering greenhouse gases.

Lock the Gate and climate advocacy group Comms Declare have made a submission to the Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to launch an investigation. The Environmental Defenders Office has sent its own letter to the ACCC, accusing the advertising campaign of potentially misleading the public on several counts.

The fuss is about more than misleading the public. The claims are lies and deliberately withhold critical evidence that proves the fact. This form of dishonest advertising is now called greenwashing, and Appea is guilty of it.

Image from Victoria

This is why the submissions to the ACCC are calling for those responsible to be held accountable.

“Greenwashing is dangerous because it delays action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and undermines competition and consumer trust in green or renewable products,” said Kirsty Ruddock, managing lawyer at the EDO.

Last month an Ad Standards panel found Appea’s campaign had breached its codes covering environmental claims.

The downside is that the panel took a minimalist position of considering only the lack of clarity and detail on the claims made. It didn’t consider whether the claims are true or false. It could have considered that gas emits a high level of methane gas, which is a more potent greenhouse gas that carbon. The 50 percent cleaner than coal tag is a lie.  

Appea has stopped making the 50 percent claim. But it keeps on implying that the expansion of the gas industry is vital to meeting Australia’s contribution to reducing the risk of climate change.

Nevertheless, the small slap on the wrist approach provides comfort to the fossil fuel industry, by sending out the message that they will not really be punished for misleading and false advertising.

This is the reality that has prompted the approach to the ACCC.

There is no guarantee that this will provide a better result. Government appointed bodies have a built in reluctance to take on big business. Even so, the case will at least help to alert the public and undermine the credibility of Appea and those it represents, and it will be the reaction of the public that will ultimately hold to account those who should be.

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