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Environment

New Campaign Calls for UK Ban on Adverts for Large Cars That Pollute the Planet

Why Global Citizens Should Care
The UN's Global Goal 13 calls for urgent climate action to combat the climate crisis. The UN describes climate change as a “real and undeniable threat to our entire civilisation”, and we need world leaders to step up and deliver real change to limit that threat, including by influencing consumer behaviour. Join the movement by taking action here to help protect the environment.

The climate crisis isn’t one monster. You can’t defeat it with a giant stake through the heart.

It’s thousands of little fights: activists in Ireland taking their government to court or going vegan on weeknights. It’s stepping up at moments when the world is watching. It’s a 15-year-old girl in Sweden who one day decides to skip school to protest on her own outside parliament.

Everyone needs a corner — and in Britain, another crucial skirmish has broken out over the problem of large polluting cars, with a campaign that argues such vehicles should be treated by advertisers in the same way as smoking.

The campaign, called "Badvertising", has urged the government to ban adverts for large vehicles that pollute the planet — including sports utility vehicle (SUV) cars.

Its moment arrived amid a new report called “Upselling Smoke”, published by The New Weather Institute, an environmental co-op and think tank; Possible, a climate charity that strives for a zero carbon society; and funded by the KR Foundation, a Danish organisation that finances green projects. 

It argues that aggressive advertising driven by international car brands has fuelled the popularity of large vehicles, which threatens to undermine climate goals in Britain and elsewhere — such as the UK’s commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

The report states that more than 40% of all new cars sold in Britain are SUVs, and globally, SUVs make up 60% of the growth in car sales since 2010. Yet fully electric vehicles account for less than 2% of sales.

Meanwhile, ever-increasing car sizes has led to 150,000 new cars being sold in the UK last year which are too big to fit in a standard parking space.

The report protests how car companies are disproportionately promoting larger, more polluting SUVs for wider profit margins — and urges the British government to legislate against the “dirtiest third” of all new cars sold, meaning cars with average emissions exceeding 160g CO2/km or more than 4.8m in length. 

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Although the BBC reports that a spokesperson for the car industry maintained that SUVs are the cleanest in history — and spoke to a representative from a transport policy and research organisation who suggested an advertising ban would not make a “great deal of difference” — the people behind the campaign insist that large cars are a threat to public health and the climate.

“We ended tobacco advertising when we understood the threat from smoking to public health,” said Andrew Simms, co-director of the New Weather Institute. “Now that we know the human health and climate damage done by car pollution, it’s time to stop adverts making the problem worse. In a pandemic-prone world, people need clean air and more space on town and city streets.”

“There are adverts, and then there are badverts,” he added. “Promoting the biggest, worst emitting SUVs is like upselling pollution, and we need to stop. In a climate emergency when we need to make the places where we live more people friendly, SUVs are in the way of progress.”

The campaign also calls for a phasing out of all fossil fuel-powered vehicles in the years to come — including on airline flights.

Robbie Gillett, a campaigner at Possible, said: “Their misleading ads promise us freedom and escape – but the reality of urban road conditions is grinding traffic jams, toxic air pollution, and spiralling carbon emissions from road transport that will trash our climate goals.”

“Let’s create space to breathe and space to think – free from the advertising pressures of big polluters,” he added.

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