Stop the gaslighting: Ending fossil fuel greenwashing in Australia

28.08.23 By

Fossil fuel companies are gaslighting Australians and cashing in on the climate crisis. Let’s crack down on their dodgy environmental claims.

Big fossil fuel corporations in Australia have become expert greenwashers – using words like ‘net zero’ and ‘carbon neutral’ to try and make us think they’re serious about tackling harmful climate change. 

Clever advertising and imagery, intentionally vague language in annual reports, fossil fuel logos plastered over the backs of our national sporting heroes; all of this is marketing designed to make us forget that fossil fuel corporations are fuelling the climate crisis. 

But it’s time to crack down on their dodgy environmental claims. These companies operate hundreds of coal, oil and gas projects in Australia that are polluting our air, water and atmosphere. Many – like Woodside, Santos and Chevron – are actively trying to open up even more. 

We know that any new fossil fuel project anywhere tips the scales towards faster and more catastrophic climate change, and puts all of us in harm’s way. 

You can’t honestly claim to be working towards net zero while opening up new coal and gas projects. So we’re calling on the Australian Parliament to develop strong new laws that will stamp out systemic greenwashing by the fossil fuel industry, and put a stop to outrageous sustainability claims from some of the country’s worst environmental offenders.

Watch the video below to find out more:

Key Campaign Issues: 

1. Greenwashing: a deliberate, dangerous distraction 

Australians are living through unnatural disaster after unnatural disaster. From megafires to megafloods, heatwaves and drought, extreme weather events are happening more often, and becoming more severe. This is climate change, and it’s caused by burning fossil fuels. 

To prevent further and potentially catastrophic harm from climate change, we urgently need to start phasing down the use of coal, oil and gas. But of course, big fossil fuel corporations don’t want this to happen; and use greenwashing tactics to intentionally and actively delay the shift away from their harmful products. Right now, there’s nothing in Australia’s laws or advertising rules that stops a fossil fuel company from putting out a net zero plan, spruiking their ‘clean and green’ climate credentials far and wide, then doing absolutely nothing (or very little) to genuinely cut greenhouse gas emissions. 

This obscures the fossil fuel industry’s ongoing contribution to the climate crisis, and directs investment away from cleaner industries and opportunities. New wind and solar, battery and storage projects, renewable hydrogen and transmission infrastructure all urgently need to be scaled up to support Australia’s renewable energy future, and there simply isn’t time or money to waste on propping up the fossil fuel industry instead. 

2. You can’t claim net zero while opening new fossil fuel projects

Many of the world’s largest multinational fossil fuel corporations operate in Australia. Companies like Chevron, Woodside, Anglo American, Santos, BHP, Glencore, Inpex, Shell, ConocoPhillips and Esso have all made public commitments to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 or sooner. At the same time, all of these corporations are pursuing the development of new or expanded fossil fuel production. For example, gas giant Woodside  claims it is working to cut its emissions this decade and achieve net zero operational emissions by 2050. But at the same time, it is pursuing multiple massive new gas projects – like the Scarborough and Browse gas plants off Western Australia – that will add billions of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere in coming years. 

The global consensus is stark: there can be no new coal, oil, and gas projects anywhere, if we are to have any hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change. So how can fossil fuel companies honestly say they are working towards net zero, at the same time that they are racing to open new fossil fuel projects? It’s simple. They can’t. 


Fossil fuel greenwashing: Climate Council urges Australian Parliament to crack down on ‘billion tonne elephant in the room’

3. Offsets are not the answer

Fossil fuel companies love to jazz up their sustainability plans by relying on extensive use of carbon offsets. This is when companies purchase carbon credits – such as planting trees or land restoration – to compensate for the emissions they produce elsewhere. And sure, it might sound good on paper. In reality, you can’t cancel out millions of tonnes of carbon emissions produced through selling and burning fossil fuels through offsets alone. 

There is a small role for offsets to play in situations where it is difficult to avoid or reduce pollution, for example in critical industries like cement or steelmaking. But offsets should not be used as an alternative to making genuine cuts to emissions, or as the sole basis for making ‘net zero’ or ‘carbon neutral’ claims. Fossil fuel companies that rely on offsets to account for the massive and ongoing production of harmful carbon pollution are guilty of greenwashing and this practice must be stamped out.

READ MORE: A tonne of fossil carbon isn’t the same as a tonne of new trees: why offsets can’t save us | Climate Council 

The solution: strong new anti-greenwashing laws

Corporate greenwashing from the fossil fuel industry is deliberately and intentionally prolonging the use of coal, oil and gas in our energy system, at a time when we must be doing everything we can to embrace clean, renewable energy alternatives. 

The Australian Parliament has a critical and important job to do in stamping out corporate greenwashing from the fossil fuel industry. Australia needs strong, new anti greenwashing laws, based on international best practice and standards, that will ensure fossil fuel companies can no longer gaslight consumers, mislead shareholders and governments, and cover up their ongoing contribution to harmful climate change. 

These laws must:

The Australian Parliament will be holding a Senate Inquiry into greenwashing later this year, and you can find out more about our push for strong new anti-greenwashing laws by reading our full submission, here.

Want to join the push to stamp out greenwashing from the fossil fuel industry? Making a tax-deductible donation to the Climate Council today is a much-needed and powerful way you can support this ongoing work.