As COP27 kicks off in Egypt, the Conscious Advertising Network’s Jake Dubbins and Harriet Kingaby assess the state of the climate challenge and explain why it’s time for marketers to start asking different questions.

Climate is massive, complicated and scary. Quite frankly it is easier to look away.

The massive scale of the problem is demonstrated by the scale of the biggest climate conference in the world. COPs – short for Conference of the Parties – happen every year, are two weeks long and cover issues that are interconnected and often quite difficult to understand. Expect to hear terms like National Determined Contributions (NDCs), loss and damage, adaptation and mitigation, finance and the small matter of huge reductions in greenhouse gases.

COP27 began on Monday 6th November in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. This will be the Conscious Advertising Network’s second COP and the feeling as it approaches is mixed.

First, a recap. In 2015, world leaders signed the Paris Agreement which agreed to limit temperature rise to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C”. And at COP26 last year, with impact of climate change evident in regions throughout the world, there was a notable emphasis on aiming for the 1.5°C limit.

The 1.5°C climate looks increasingly unlikely

Where are we now? Unfortunately, the macro situation is dire. According to UNEP Emission’s Gap Report published on 27th October, policies currently in place point to a 2.8°C temperature rise by the end of the century. Implementation of the current pledges will only reduce this to a 2.4–2.6°C temperature rise by the end of the century, for conditional and unconditional pledges respectively. 

The report finds that only an urgent system-wide transformation can deliver the enormous cuts needed to limit greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The IPCC Report released in February 2022 said that there is a ‘rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future’.

That ‘rapidly closing window’ is very real for many people. At COP26 we watched Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados say that even two degrees is a ‘death sentence’ for small island nations. We met farmers from Cote D’Ivoire, from Paraguay and from Southern India all saying the same thing. Rains are now unpredictable. They do not come for months and then a deluge arrives. Years of work can be undone and the whole crop can be lost. Younger generations no longer want to work in farming. One Paraguayan farmer Andres Gonzalez told us: ‘We have had wars for oil, for land. Imagine the wars if people are fighting for food.’

That system-wide transformation that UNEP say we need is embryonic and in many cases is being deliberately blocked and stymied. The voices of civil society and activists are unable to flourish in many parts of the world, and environmental activists like Alaa Abd El-Fattah are currently in jail in Egypt. Trust is also a huge issue. One day into the conference in Sharm El Sheikh and multiple media outlets are reporting that there is a huge risk to privacy by downloading the official COP27 app.

Businesses and governments everywhere need to understand that climate change is not happening in 100 years. This is happening now. It demands action, trust and collaboration not seen since the end of the Second World War.

It will impact every single one of us in the advertising industry. Sooner or later every marketer on the planet will have to remove their head from the sand and lean into the biggest brief of our lives. We need to be asking ourselves different questions:

  • How climate literate are you and your team?
  • Are you thinking about what triple-bottom line growth looks like?
  • Does the growth of your brand’s share decrease the Greenhouse Gas Emissions of the whole category?
  • Are you innovating in climate-preserving products and services?
  • Are you helping people close the intention-action gap, making it easier to make greener choices?

There is always hope

This hope comes from a growing and influential group of people collaborating to try to push business and government forcefully towards the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. This is both inside the advertising industry and outside. As COP27 starts it is useful to list out these collaborators:

  • Climate Action Against Disinformation – Throughout COP27 16 organisations are collaborating on an Intelligence Unit to monitor climate misinformation and greenwashing all over the world. The organisations include the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, Greenpeace Roots, Friends of the Earth US, Code for Africa, The Conscious Advertising Network and ACT Climate Labs.
  • ACT Climate Labs, powered by Media Bounty is training over 100 climate groups and climate leaders on reaching the hard to reach persuadable audiences, narrative frames and how to use paid media to break out of the COP climate bubble.
  • Conscious Advertising Network will be releasing some shocking polling that lays out the scale of climate denial and delay messaging in the UK, US, India, Australia, Brazil and Germany.
  • Purpose Disruptors will also be releasing new research into advertising emissions, building on their pioneering work at COP26.
  • Ad Net Zero is going global. Not only are the five actions becoming ingrained in the advertising landscape there is much more of a focus on behaviour change now the industry has taken steps to get its own house in order.
  • The ASA have set a massive new precedent with their ruling on HSBC. Greenwashing no longer means isolating a misleading claim, it means placing a claim in the context of the wider business. This is incredible as it demands genuine transparency from advertisers. We look forward to future rulings on the ads from the fossil fuel industry and other high carbon industries.

Cognitive dissonance

These are just a few of the collaborative initiatives going on as we head towards another COP. It is incredible to write that hopes are not high to secure a liveable future. The cognitive dissonance displayed by governments, business and individuals is astonishing when faced with this language. The deliberate actions of a few who stand to profit massively from the status quo may end up being examined in the Hague. But that will be too late.

A new study* from the Purpose Disruptors and econometrics agency Magic Numbers found the UK advertising industry has grown its contribution to every citizen’s carbon footprint from 28% in 2019 to 32% in 2022.

We hope that this COP will be a shining example of what can be achieved by collaboration, businesses stepping up to the plate and actions to back up the words that will pull us back from the precipice.

Like it or not, marketing operates in many climate-impacting areas, including manufacturing, NPD, media and comms. The industry therefore has an opportunity to show real leadership, and be at the forefront of positive change.

There are no ads on a dead planet.

*Advertised Emissions: The Temperature Check 2022 report will be published on the 22nd November.