Australia’s energy and mining companies have ramped up their spending on lobbying and advertising campaigns, capitalising on a record year of profits for the sector, a new report has found.
The F-List is a report that lists advertising, media, public relations and lobbying agencies that work with companies directly emitting fossil fuels. The third annual edition has found the number of Australian agencies working with energy and mining clients rose from 54 to 92.
Compiled by media and marketing climate activist group Comms Declare, and US-based Clean Creatives, the report found 32 of the 42 new additions (four agencies were removed) were lobbying groups – 25 of which were working for oil and gas companies.
The increase in lobbying coincides with increased activity and government intervention in Australia’s fossil fuel policy and gas supply, driven by prices rises fuelled by the ongoing war in Ukraine.
While the number of lobbying and advertising agencies engaged has risen significantly, total paid advertising spend across all utility companies in Australia (renewable energy, gas, water and electricity) was $137 million across September 2022 to August 2023, per Nielsen Ad Intel – a 4 per cent decline on the 12 months prior ($143 million). This figure includes spend across television, radio, outdoor, cinema and digital.
Major retail companies AGL, Origin Energy, EnergyAustralia, Powershop Australia and Alinta Energy make up the top five businesses by advertising spend in the sector across the period.
The leading industry body for oil and gas companies, Australian Energy Producers – which rebranded last week from Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) – rolled out a public PR push in 2023.
Its campaign, “Natural gas: Keeping the country running”, was one of several high-profile campaigns from the sector in 2023.
It included a claim that natural gas was “50 per cent cleaner” (without being clear about what the figure was compared against), alongside other claims, was deemed by the Australian Association of National Advertisers’ ad standards panel to have breached three sections of its environmental code for being “misleading or deceptive”.
Chief executive of the oil and gas body Samantha McCulloch explained its rebrand – which notably removed the word “petroleum” from the name – as a response to a changing world and energy system.
“Our industry has already expanded its focus beyond oil and gas exploration and development to also cover low-carbon fuels and net-zero technologies,” McCulloch said last week.
Asked about the rise in engagements of lobbying firms, McCulloch emphasised the Australia’s oil and gas industry’s commitment to achieving net-zero by 2050.
“Supporting the transition away from coal, backing up renewables in electricity, enabling net-zero technologies such as low-carbon hydrogen production and carbon capture and storage and supporting emissions reductions in industries including the processing of the critical minerals needed for net-zero.”
The Australian Energy Producers and the Australian Minerals Council were contacted about their increased use of lobbyists, but neither body responded before publication.
The F-List report counts 500 contracts signed by agencies and lobbyists, a rise from 230, in 2023, with global communications group WPP holding the most clients in its stable (55), and American-listed company Omnicom clocking in second with 39 clients.
Locally, the list includes seven WPP companies as having at least one fossil fuel client.
A WPP spokesperson said energy companies must continue to meet the needs of the world while also playing a central role in the transition to green energy, and need to communicate their actions to the public in an accurate way.
“We require rigorous standards to be applied to the content we produce for all our clients, and seek to fairly represent their environmental actions and commitments at all times.”
Belinda Noble, founder of Comms Declare and co-author of the list, said she was “quite horrified” to find it had almost doubled in 2023.
“Agency influence can be seen in the boom in greenwashing, such as the Northern Territory’s Middle Arm gas and petrochemical hub being shamelessly rebadged as a ‘Sustainable Development Precinct’, and hydrogen made with coal or gas being described as ‘clean’ or ‘renewable’,” Noble said.
Tim Buckley, director of Climate Energy Finance said Australia’s profit margin from exporting $240 billion in fossil fuels in 2022 has resulted in more money than ever to “fund their lobbying efforts to delay climate action and protect their profits”.
Noble said public communications from the sector had become increasingly “subtle and complex”.
“We’re in quite a grey area where we’re looking at hydrogen, blended gas, and these different sorts of products that do have fewer emissions than coal, but are still baking in fossil fuel use for future generations,” she said.
In 2023, the City of Yarra Council introduced a ban on fossil fuel advertising across all council property, while this month, cartoonists led a boycott of Australia’s top journalism awards over a commercial partnership with fuel supplier Ampol.
The Business Briefing newsletter delivers major stories, exclusive coverage and expert opinion. Sign up to get it every weekday morning.
Source: Thanks smh.com