Edinburgh council votes to take high carbon ads off the streets

Big win in Edinburgh: Council approves High-Carbon Ad Ban

Two years after the policy was first proposed by Scottish Green Councillor Ben Parker, Edinburgh Council last night banned advertising for fossil fuel companies, airlines, airports, fossil-powered cars, all SUVs and cruise ships on council-owned advertising spaces, including billboards, bus stops and digital media. In addition, these companies will no longer be able to sponsor events or other partnerships in Scotland’s capital city. 

In a final amendment to the policy, the council also excluded advertising and sponsorships by arms manufacturers, with Councillor Parker saying: “it is unthinkable that the council should enter into contracts with arms companies whose weapons – which in some cases are manufactured here in the city – are being used in the horrific and relentless bombardment of Palestine, at the same time as the Council has publicly called for a ceasefire.    

“Today we have taken a clear step to say: we don’t need their money, we don’t want their money, and we don’t think it’s right for the Council to legitimise the practices of organisations whose business is to profit from war.”  

This morning the magnitude of the win is sinking in: this is a major international city declaring that their commitment to climate justice must necessarily preclude them from accepting money from fossil fuel companies.  They’ve put their principles above their profit, and declared that ‘the advertising industry has a key role to play in promoting low-carbon behaviours. Conversely, the promotion of high-carbon products is incompatible with net zero objectives’.

A win like this doesn’t come overnight. It is the result of tenacious, dedicated work, tirelessly making both the financial and social case for reclaiming public space from the onslaught of advertising, and working alongside politicians on their often frustratingly slow time-scales.  

But it is just about possible that these wins are starting to accumulate. This massive win in Edinburgh follows hot on the heels of another win in Sheffield, where the City Council announced a similar policy to end polluting and unhealthy advertising in March 2024. Cambridgeshire, Coventry and Somerset have also taken steps to curb high-carbon advertising and sponsorship. Across England, one third of local authorities now have some kind of restriction on harmful advertising.

The development of Edinburghs’s policy has been supported by Adfree Cities over the last two years.  

It means that other cities are starting to look out of step with the times. When Edinburgh and Sheffield can recognise the boost to citizen welfare by reducing the amount of harmful advertising around their cities – and when they can draw such clear links between high-carbon advertising and the challenges they face in achieving their net zero targets – how can other cities defend advertising policies which accept these ills? 

Reflecting on the win, Freddie Daley from Badvertising said: ‘removing adverts for polluting products is a rapid, cheap and popular way to cut emissions and help decarbonise our economy.  Edinburgh Council have taken an important step and shown what is possible when ambition is twinned with action.  This is a world-leading climate policy, putting Edinburgh ahead of any other global capital city.’

As Scottish Greens Councillor Alys Mumford said during the debate: ‘As a council we believe in climate justice, we believe in emissions reduction and we believe in making Edinburgh a better place to live and work. We know that climate anxiety is very real and having a massive impact on the mental health of our young people. This is about what we say about ourselves as a council and as a city.’

It’s quite beautiful to hear, really, isn’t it?

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