Nobel laureates press EU to label tar sands high polluting as FQD battle heats up

Creative Commons: Dru Oja Jay, Dominion/Howl Arts Collective, 2008
Creative Commons: Dru Oja Jay, Dominion/Howl Arts Collective, 2008

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The battle over tar sands imports to Europe is once again heating up, as Nobel laureates, first nation leaders and the Canadian lobby all put pressure on EU leaders ahead of the upcoming vote on the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD).

Yesterday, a group of 21 Nobel peace and science laureates – including Archbishop Desmond Tutu – sent a letter to European Commission president José Barroso urging him and European Union environment ministers to immediately implement the FQD.

The letter read:

The extraction of unconventional fuels – such as oil sands and oil shale – is having a particularly devastating impact on climate change…

We have no doubt that the Directive must be applied fairly to unconventional fuels to ensure their climate impacts are fully taken into account.  It follows that the fuel-producing companies should report their climate emissions and be held responsible for any emissions increase.

We welcome the EU’s scientific analysis—as it is now proposed for the implementation of the EU Directive—that the extraction and production of fuels from unconventional sources fuels including oil sands, coal-to-liquid, and oil shale leads to higher emissions and that this should be reflected in the regulations.

The FQD is a EU fuel law that is designed to reduce emissions from transportation fuel by 6% by 2020.

If properly implemented the law would provide an incentive for oil companies to invest in lower-carbon sources and emission reduction technologies.

Canada sits on the world’s third-largest crude reserves after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. The vast majority is unconventional – including tar sands.

Very little of it currently makes its way to Europe, but that could change as new pipelines are developed, such as TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline.

The FQD legislation was approved in 2009, and in October 2011 the commission proposed detailed rules for implementing the law. This included default values to rank fuels by greenhouse gas output across the life cycle of the fuel.

As part of this, tar sands and other unconventional oils would be labelled as more polluting than conventional crude.

Intense Canadian lobbying and an inconclusive EU vote on the law forced the commission to announce an assessment of the impact of the fuel quality directive in April 2012.

The assessment results are expected in September, with a vote in December.

The call from Nobel laureates this week coincides with a pro-tar sands lobby tour to undermine the FQD by ministers of the Canadian government.

Two senior Canadian ministers are currently on a week-long trip to try and create a friendly market in the EU for dirty tar sands oil.

Canada has previous argued that the FQD discriminates against Canadian oil and have taken every opportunity to press their case.

George Poitras, former Chief of the Mikisaw Cree First Nation has also been travelling in Europe this week to raise awareness for the impacts of tar sands on Canada’s indigenous communities.

Speaking at an event at the UK Parliament, alongside renewables expert Jeremy Leggett and Greenpeace EU transport policy adviser Franziska Achterberg, Poitras said:

We have little or no authority or influence on how Canada expands the industry. Foreign countries have more of a say over the future of our communities and over our environment by virtue of the decisions you make in coming months.

The industry’s pollution of the land, air and waterways in Alberta has caused the devastation of the ancient boreal forests of Canada and has poisoned downstream communities.

Speaking alongside Poitras, Leggett, Chairman of UK based NGO, Carbon Tracker warned that tar sands expansion not only posed a climate and environmental threat but also a financial threat.

Carbon Tracker research has shown that around 80% of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground to limit global temperature rise below 2°C – and represent potentially “stranded assets”.

Leggett warned that unconventional fuels, including the tar sands are “definitely in the 80%” and warned that financial institutions must recognise the threat of the “Mississippi River of capital flowing irresponsibly, even suicidally into fossil fuels.”

The production of tar sands oil creates three times more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil, and the tar sands are the fastest growing source of emissions in Canada.

The FQD, which would discourage the import of tar sands oil to the EU, would send an important signal that tar sands oil is a bad investment and could help hinder the rapid expansion of this dangerous industry.



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