COP28: Climate activists slam fossil fuel firms over greenwashing ads


December 9, 2023

Activists campaigning against climate disinformation at COP28 in Dubai have slammed major oil and gas companies for placing thousands of greenwashing fossil fuel advertisements online in the first five days of climate talks.

According to an analysis conducted by the Climate Action Against Disinformation (CAAD), major oil and gas companies placed over 5000 advertisements between November 30, when the negotiations began, and December 4, 2023.

“This new research shows that the fossil fuel industry is attempting to influence the public with misleading greenwashing advertisements during COP28,” said Sean Buchan, a UK-based climate misinformation researcher at CAAD. “It shows an utter contempt for the thousands that die every year due to the use of the industry’s dirty products,” he told the Alliance for Science.

Focused on carbon credits

CAAD is a global coalition of over 50 prominent climate and anti-disinformation organizations calling for decisive, unified action against widespread climate misinformation and disinformation.

The analysis, which was released on the last day of the first week of negotiations, ahead of the ministerial week, indicates that the leading oil companies, including the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), whose chief executive, Dr Sultan al Jaber is the COP28 president, put up a spirited greenwashing campaign, placing advertisements that present gender-inclusive values, some with focus on ‘net zero,’ while others focused on carbon credits.

This comes after a coalition of African civil society organizations under the Pan Africa Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) raised concerns about Dr Al Jaber’s ability to steer COP28.

One YouTube video by ADNOC Group, though posted much earlier but less than a month before the commencement of COP28, had 4.9 million views at the time of writing. The video covers the Greatest Hits of greenwashing, from ‘nature-based solutions’ to ‘vacuuming out the CO2 from the atmosphere.’

According to experts, large-scale nature-based solution projects have been seen to cause land conflicts or even the displacement of local communities who depend on the land and sometimes forests for their livelihoods.

In some cases, such initiatives, based on the carbon market, may introduce new species of vegetation that may be invasive in particular areas. An example is Prosopis juliflora, a hardy shrub introduced in Kenya in the 1970s  following global deforestation concerns. Today, the species has caused more harm than good to the environment, colonizing all the rangelands and killing all the vegetation under it.

Hard to sell to a nervous public

Leading oil and gas companies have used similar greenwashing messages, promoting solutions such as carbon capture.

According to the UK-based British Geological Survey, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) involves capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) at emission sources, transporting it, and storing or burying it in a deep, underground location. CCS can also mean the removal of CO2 directly or indirectly from the atmosphere.

However, according to an explainer by Reuters news agency, the technologies that capture carbon dioxide emissions are expensive, unproven at scale, and can be hard to sell to a nervous public – making unworkable, at the moment, the model envisaged worldwide of capturing carbon and storing it for money.

“These are technofix experiments cooked in laboratories which have painted a rosy picture of abating the growth of greenhouse gases, helping rich countries to delay their actions through deep emissions cuts as required by science and imperatives of climate justice,” said Dr Mithika Mwenda, the Executive Director of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA).

Activists are worried that such advertisements that use greenwashing language will most likely influence some negotiators and policymakers at COP28.

“These advertisements and lobbying are both essential to the oil and gas industry’s toolkit for influencing policymakers,” said Faye Holder, the Programme Manager at InfluenceMap. This non-profit think tank provides objective and evidence-based analysis of how companies and financial institutions impact climate and biodiversity crises.

So far, some countries, including Saudi Arabia, are pushing for a COP28 deal that allows the use of carbon capture technologies. This move by activists from the Global South is believed to be a way of seeking excuses to continue their fossil fuel business.


Isaiah Esipisu is an independent journalist and a media consultant. He is the continental Coordinator for the Pan Africa Media Alliance for Climate Change (PAMACC).