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B.C. LNG ads claiming emission reductions are misleading, watchdog rules

Ad claims LNG ‘will’ cut emissions, but Ad Standards Canada says that isn’t a known fact
A Canada Action advertisement seen on a bus in Victoria in December 2023 has been ruled as misleading by national oversight group Ad Standards Canada. Ad Standards ruled in January 2024 that the ad’s claim that LNG “will” reduce emissions cannot be backed up with evidence and amounts to greenwashing. (Photo courtesy of Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment)

Advertisements claiming that B.C. LNG exports will reduce global greenhouse gas emissions amount to greenwashing, a Canadian oversight agency has ruled.

Non-profit regulator Advertising Standards Canada issued its decision on Jan. 30, in it determining that the months-long ad campaign is not backed by enough evidence and is misleading the public.

Run by resource and energy advocacy organization Canada Action, the billboard, newspaper and transit ads state that “B.C. LNG will reduce global emissions.” The statement is set against a green background and directs readers to the Canada Action website.

Ad Standards doesn’t always release its decisions publicly and hasn’t done so with this one, but Black Press Media obtained a copy of it after an anonymous source shared the ruling with the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.

In it, Ad Standards reviewed evidence provided by both the complainants and Canada Action and determined that the use of the word “will” is inaccurate. While liquified natural gas (LNG) exports from B.C. may reduce emissions if it replaces the burning of coal, particularly in Asia, it isn’t a guaranteed fact, Ad Standards ruled.

“As such, Council unanimously determined that all of the ads distorted the true meaning of statements made by professionals or scientific authorities…,” the decision reads.

“…all of the advertisements promised a verified result without competent and reliable evidence…,” it added.

Some members of the oversight council also took issue with the ads’ bright green background colour, which they said was “used to emphasize an environmental benefit that liquefied natural gas does not truly have.”

The decision orders Canada Action to stop running its B.C. LNG ads. Despite this, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment says the ads have continued. Most recently, the ad took up the front page of the May 4 edition of the Times Colonist newspaper.

Canada Action says this is because they didn’t receive notice of Ad Standards’ ruling against them until May 7, more than three months after the decision was made. The organization’s founder, Cody Batters, shared a screenshot with Black Press Media showing a May 7 email from Ad Standards to him with the attached decision. He said between January and then it was “radio silence.”

A May 4, 2024 copy of the Times Colonist shows Canada Action was running its B.C. LNG ad more than three months after Ad Standards Canada ruled it was misleading, on Jan. 30. Canada Action says it wasn’t notified of the ruling until May 7, however. (Photo courtesy of Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment)

Batters didn’t share the decision itself, saying he wanted to respect the confidentiality of the process.

Ad Standards initially declined to comment on why providing the decision to Canada Action would take so long, but later said it is dealing with “staffing shortages and a significant surge in complaints.” The oversight agency declined an interview request, but CEO Catherine Bate said in a statement that they are working to rectify their backlog.

Batters said Canada Action is complying with the decision and removing the ads, but has also filed an appeal with additional evidence backing their emission reductions claims. He’s been given no timeline on when that review may take place. Bate said because the initial decision was leaked, they will only be sharing the appeal decision with Canada Action and not publishing it publicly.

Dr. Melissa Lam, a Vancouver family physician and president of Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, said the drawn-out advertising oversight process in Canada is a major problem. She said greenwashing by fossil fuel companies happens all the time, but it is difficult to hold them to account.

While Canada Action says it will comply with the Ad Standards’ decision, the oversight agency doesn’t have any real enforcing power. If a company doesn’t comply with its order, the most Ad Standards can do is publicize its decision, ask people not to run advertisements for the company or forward the issue on to Competition Bureau Canada.

As an independent law enforcement agency, the Competition Bureau can take concrete steps, but it can take months or years for the bureau to investigate a complaint.

“They’re essentially giving these fossil fuel companies social licence to continue polluting and to continue harming our climate and our health,” Lam said.

The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment has been petitioning the federal government since 2022 to put a blanket ban on fossil fuel advertising, similar to what exists for the tobacco industry. Like smoking cigarettes, the health care workers argue, fossil fuels are having devastating effects on people’s health.

Beyond the poor air quality fossil fuel emissions cause, Lam noted they are also accelerating climate change and the wildfires, droughts and heat waves that come with it.

“It’s really distressing as a health-care professional to see these greenwashed ads everywhere, and to know the direct effects they’re having on my patients by propagating disinformation.”

Batters said he stands by the ads and is confident the evidence presented in the appeal supports their messaging.

About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media.
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