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Calls to ban ‘high carbon’ ads on Bristol council

May 09, 2023

Campaigners are calling for City Hall chiefs to change their policy on harmful advertising

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Campaigners have renewed calls to ban adverts promoting "high carbon" goods on council-owned sites in Bristol. Adblock Bristol said it was "extremely contradictory" for Bristol City Council to urge behaviour change while allowing adverts for flights, SUVs and red meat.

Carbon emissions are still increasing across the world and Bristol is way off its 2030 target to reach net zero, despite efforts from the council. A huge part of the council's plan to tackle climate change is encouraging people to drive less, to reduce carbon emissions.

But car companies and airlines are still allowed to advertise their products on council-owned sites. The council already bans adverts for alcohol and gambling, and was urged to extend this ban to goods and services that contribute to the climate crisis, during a meeting of the overview and scrutiny management board (OSMB) on Tuesday, June 6.

Read more:Shell's Bristol advert campaign banned for being misleading and exaggerated

Veronica Wignall, from Adblock Bristol, said: "It's extremely contradictory to be hearing one thing about the climate emergency and the behaviour change we all need to make, and quite another to be seeing constant adverts for flights, cars, SUVs, red meat and things we know have to be phased out to limit the effects of climate breakdown."

The policy prohibits advertising of junk food, alcohol, gambling and payday loans on all council-owned advertising sites. According to Adblock Bristol, Cambridgeshire County Council, Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council and Coventry City Council have already adopted bans on adverts for fossil fuels and other environmentally damaging products.

Green Councillor Carla Denyer said the previous reason why Bristol City Council chose not to ban high carbon adverts was due to a lack of legal precedent. But recently-shared legal opinion could pave the way for a change in policy, without risk of any legal challenges.

She said: "When the council's advertising and sponsorship policy was adopted, it came through with heavy and helpful input from OSMB just over two years ago. The eventual decision was to strengthen a lot from the draft and include prohibitions for a lot of harmful kinds of advertising, but not to include advertising for high carbon products and services.

"Not ruling out the principle, but holding back from it at that stage on the basis that there were no nationally agreed standards or no local authority precedents. That has changed since the policy was adopted. Basically a legal opinion has shown that it's within the council's legal powers, so you’re not likely to be successfully legally challenged. Several other councils have now adopted controls on high carbon advertising."

Responding to the calls, the council said it was evaluating its advertising policy, with help from the University of Bristol, and could consider further restrictions on adverts in future.

In a written statement, a council officer said: "We are currently continuing our initial evaluation of the council's Advertising and Sponsorship Policy in partnership with the University of Bristol. Once this is complete and when our internal resourcing levels allow, we plan to review and refresh the policy. At this point, we will consider any further restrictions including the potential for those suggested relating to low carbon."