The City of Ottawa allows fossil fuel companies to advertise their products and messages on billboards and facilities throughout the city.

This month, for the first time in 20 years, the city will review its Corporate Sponsorship and Advertising Policy.

Yesterday, I joined other delegates and presented to the city’s Finance and Corporate Services Committee to urge city councilors to ban advertising by fossil fuel companies.

Here is my speech to Ottawa City Council in support of a ban on fossil fuel advertising in city facilities.

Julia Levin, Associate Director, National Climate, Environmental Defence

“For the last five years, I have been pushing governments in Canada to be more ambitious in their efforts to tackle the climate crisis. What has become obvious is that the biggest barrier to climate action in this country is the oil and gas industry. For this reason, I am here to speak in support of the proposal calling on the City of Ottawa to prohibit the advertisement and promotion of fossil fuels and sponsorship by fossil companies.

2023 was a disastrous year, with climate-related disasters hitting almost every part of our planet, including Ottawa. And this year is set to be even worse.

We know that we’re on a catastrophic path – and that unless we urgently transition off fossil fuels, we face the collapse of everything that sustains us. We also know it didn’t have to be this way. If oil and gas companies hadn’t spent the last 50 years doing everything in their power to obstruct climate action, we would be in a very different place today.

Companies like Exxon and Imperial have been studying the impacts of their oil and gas products on the climate since the 1970s. That means they’ve known for the past 50 years that their products were going to destroy our planet’s ability to sustain life. Did they decide in the 1970s, 80s or 90s that they would change course and invest in new forms of energy? No. Instead, they invested massively into huge campaigns to discredit climate science and climate solutions. They lied to the public. They funded climate denial groups. They fought against any rules or oversight that might impact their profits.

Now that the impacts of the climate crisis are being experienced firsthand, it’s become impossible for these companies to promote the same kind of climate denial. Their new approach is to position themselves as part of the solution. But their only motivation is to prolong business as usual, delay the necessary energy transition, and make as much profit for their shareholders as possible.

Oil and gas companies know the importance of obtaining social license for their activities. This is why they spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on advertising and sponsorship campaigns. It’s not just the climate impacts of fossil fuels that their advertising seeks to mislead the public on; it’s also the immediate health impacts. The pollution that comes from burning fossil fuels causes approximately 34,000 premature deaths in Canada each year. That’s one in every seven premature deaths across the country. Oil and gas companies want to hide these dirty truths from Canadians.

This is where you come in. You have a choice, much like your colleagues did twenty years ago when councilors in Ottawa decided to ban advertising and sponsorship from the tobacco industry. Now again, we are facing an industry whose profit model is based on causing enormous harm to the people of Ottawa and the world. And you can decide that, at least in this city’s facilities, you won’t allow these companies to mislead the residents of Ottawa or buy social license through advertisements and sponsorship.

You have the opportunity to set an important precedent for cities around the country and the world. You won’t be alone, other cities around the world are placing bans and restrictions on fossil fuel advertising, including Amsterdam, Sydney and Liverpool. Some cities are going even further and suing oil and gas companies –cities like Chicago, San Francisco, New York and cities in British Columbia.

I urge you to add Ottawa to the growing list of cities showing real climate leadership by banning all advertising and sponsorship from oil and gas companies in city facilities.”

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