Tar sands: Let’s not lose sight of the big, ugly picture…

UK Tar Sands Network/Lush/People & Planet Valentines Day 'Oil Orgy' in Oxford

UK Tar Sands Network/Lush/People & Planet Valentines Day 'Oil Orgy' in Oxford

Who would’ve thought that EU transport legislation would be getting so many of us so worked-up this week?

As the EU prepares to vote on the Fuel Qualirty Directive (FQD) on Thursday, environmentalists around the UK are kicking up a fuss in support of a piece of legislation that has the potential to effectively ban tar sands oil imports from Europe, by classifying them as 23% more polluting than most conventional crudes.

Since People & Planet launched a letter-writing action last week, over 500 of you have let Under Secretary of State for Transport, Norman Baker, and his boss, Nick Clegg, know what you think of the UK’s plans to vote against the FQD.

We (and most of you who have written) have received a generic response from Clegg’s office. Like Baker’s replies (which we went on to debunk) when we launched an action to him last November, Clegg’s letter goes to great lengths to focus on technicalities. But first and foremost, Clegg’s reply avoids the bigger picture, which we want to make sure is not lost in the bickering.

  1. Tar sands are the dirtiest form of transport fuel in commercial production today. The oil industry is pushing hard to create markets for a product that will only ensure an unmanageable level of new carbon is released into the atmosphere, at a time when we must be drastically cutting back. If the EU doesn’t enact legislation that reflects this, Canada and its partners will exploit any loophole that will help lock us into a carbon intensive future, at a time where investment in renewable energy sources is desperately needed. Each day without EU legislation is a day that plans can continue to be made to create a new European market for dirty oil. Canada recently left the Kyoto Protocol, with its relatively modest targets for emissions reductions. In case we needed any clearer indications, this is not a regime that the ‘greenest government ever’ should be allying itself with, as we fight for the planet’s survival.
  2. The tar sands industry in Canada, beyond its immense environmental costs, is having devastating impacts on local indigenous peoples, wildlife, air and water in Northern Alberta. Keeping the EU’s doors open to tar sands is exactly the kind of market signal that will help justify the quadrupling of existing tar sands operations (which have been thrown into significant limbo since Obama vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline, with the US as the biggest beneficiary of current tar sands oil production). Indigenous peoples, like those from the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, with whom we have worked closely in the struggle against this devastating industry, are going to bear the brunt of the impact if expansion is deemed economically justified. Baker and Clegg have the potential to be a part of stopping this, if they choose to…

These are the kinds of questions that are being shied away from – the big issues that the government is pretending are either not their concern, or well outside of their powers.

Instead, they focus on:

  • A counter-proposal which they haven’t filed any of the necessary paperwork for, so is not actually an option for Thursday’s vote, and would thus take considerably longer to put into action as a result (even if it was a stronger alternative).
  • Current EU fuel usage being primarily conventional crudes, while ignoring the fact that these sources are becoming scarce and that much higher polluting unconventional fuels (like tar sands and shale gas) are the waiting in the wings to fill the quickly emerging gap, if not urgently legislated against.
  • The most polluting fuels the EU currently uses, which, even at their very worst, are barely on par with the most carbon efficient tar sands oil.
  • Canadian tar sands apparently being ‘singled out’ by the FQD, though the rules would apply to currently unexploited tar sands in Venezuela, Russia, Madagascar and elsewhere, as well. Further, shale gas is also included in the FQD, as carbon values associated with a range of the worst polluting ‘conventional’ fuels will be added by 2015. There is nothing in the phantom counter-proposal that indicates how not labelling tar sands now, would assist in labelling other high-pollutant fuels sooner.

So the response has been a typically big ‘P’ political combination of misplaced emphasis, denial of responsibility and deflection of the core questions at stake. And this criticism has been echoed by politicians across the political spectrum – from Labour’s Shadow Transpor Secretary, Maria Eagle, to Tory MP Zac Goldsmith, and fellow LibDem Chris Davies MEP – all seeing the government’s position as out of step with current realities and the seriousness of the issues at stake.

We would like to ask for more from our elected representatives on this critical issue.

Liam Barrington-Bush

Tar Sands-Free Campaign Manager, People & Planet

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