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The Guardian ends advertising from fossil fuel companies because of climate change

A montage of the pages of the Guardian. (Associated Press)

The Guardian will no longer accept advertising from oil and gas companies and, in doing so, becomes the first major news organization to divest from industries that extract fossil fuels, company executives announced Wednesday.

Anna Bateson, the Guardian’s acting chief executive, and Hamish Nicklin, chief revenue officer, said in a joint statement that the move was driven, in part, by their newspaper’s reporting on the urgency of climate change and a need to be true to the company’s values — particularly, they said, as fossil fuel companies continue to use their power to influence policies that harm the planet.

“Our decision is based on the decades-long efforts by many in that industry to prevent meaningful climate action by governments around the world,” Bateson and Nicklin said.

The changes to the Guardian’s advertising policies come amid a larger shift in editorial vision when related to reporting on what it refers to as the “climate crisis.” The organization updated its style guide in October to say it would use the terms “climate emergency” or “climate crisis” as “Climate change is no longer considered to accurately reflect the seriousness of the overall situation.” Similarly, Guardian photo editors announced a change to how such stories are represented visually and signaled an end to images such as a lonely polar bear on a glacier in favor of ones that more clearly and accurately reflect the urgency and human cost of the crisis.

The new advertising policy takes effect immediately and applies to the Guardian’s flagship paper in Britain; its American and Australian digital imprints; the Observer and Guardian Weekly print publications, and all Guardian digital applications.

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Company leaders admitted that the ban on fossil fuel advertising will test the firm financially, although it wasn’t immediately clear how much of a hit to revenue the new policy will account for. Last year, 40 percent of its revenue came from advertising.

The Guardian’s leaders also said they hope their decision will attract new like-minded advertising partners and reader support, and potentially balance the loss of revenue from the fossil fuel industry advertising ban.

The new policy will not apply to what are considered high carbon-emitting industries such as car manufacturing and travel. The Guardian said the decision to keep advertising with such industries may disappoint some readers but that ending those partnerships would be a “severe financial blow” that could force major cuts to the news product.

Environmental groups praised the news. Greenpeace UK called Wednesday’s announcement “a huge moment in the battle against oil and gas for all of us!”

The Guardian’s move is unique among traditional news organizations, where revenue models remain heavily reliant on advertising dollars, but the movement to divest from fossil fuel industries has gained traction in all corners of academic, religious, corporate and philanthropic spheres.

Heirs to the Rockefeller oil fortune announced in 2014 that the Rockefeller Brothers Fund would divest from fossil fuel industries. The University of California system last year cut fossil fuel companies from its $70 billion pension fund and $13.4 billion endowment. Earlier this month, BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, said it would divest $500 million in coal interests.

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