Dirty diplomacy: Tar sands industry and the Fuel Quality Directive

tar sands industry Canada

The Canadian Government and Big Oil are working together to promote the tar sands industry and weaken climate legislation throughout the world. They are particularly targeting Europe. A primary battleground is the EU Fuel Quality Directive.

The Fuel Quality Directive and the Canadian tar sands industry

The EU is negotiating a Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) with the aim of encouraging the use of low-carbon transport fuels and discouraging the use of high-emission fuel. It aims to reduce Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions from road transport by 6%.

An independent study concluded that oil from tar sands produces 23% more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional crude. Based on this, the EU wants to label tar sands oil as more polluting than conventional oil. This would have the effect of strongly discouraging tar sands imports into the European market. As a result, the Canadian government is fighting it tooth and nail. Largely due to the precedent this would set for other important markets – such as US states. It could also discourage planned tar sands extraction projects in other parts of the world, such as Madagascar.

The Canadian government initially tried to discredit science. It insisted that tar sands oil was no more harmful to the environment than conventional oil. It also conjured up the spectre of a legal challenge for unfair discrimination at the World Trade Organisation. Once the EU had secured a peer-reviewed study confirming the highly carbon-intensive nature of tar sands extraction, Canada switched tack and began stalling the FQD by claiming tar sands shouldn’t be singled out until every other possible source of transport fuel is measured for carbon-intensity. This argument was misleading as other fuels are also being included in the FQD. But a lot of countries, including the UK, bought it, as well as erroneous arguments about ‘unfair administrative burdens’ on importing companies.

When it came to a vote in February 2012, enough major countries voted against or abstained to stall the process. Under pressure from environmental campaigners, the UK switched its vote from ‘no’ to ‘abstain’. This was a small but significant victory against the dirty diplomats. The EU is now undertaking an impact assessment, which will lead to a new proposal and another vote some time in the first half of 2014.

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