Oil industry's influence 'weakens' safeguards for EU citizens

Written by Fabian Flues on 31 July 2014 in News
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The influx of tar sands from North America will 'pollute Europe's fuel supply' and hamper 'climate ambitions', writes Fabian Flues.

In late June this year, the oil tanker Aleksey Kosygin docked in Bilbao, Spain, carrying a novel cargo of crude oil from Albertan tar sands. It was the first to be shipped to Europe. This delivery marks a victory for an oil lobby eager to find new markets for the world’s most climate-polluting fuel.

Worse may be yet to come. The ongoing transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) negotiations between the EU and the US and the EU and Canada's comprehensive trade and economic agreement (CETA) are being used by the oil lobby, with the support of the US and Canadian governments, to push more tar sands into the EU and undermine its climate policy.

Tar sands oil, mainly produced in the Canadian province of Alberta, is among the most highly-polluting fuels in commercial production. The process of converting tar sands into fuel releases three to five times the greenhouse gas emissions of conventional oil, and global supplies of tar sands oil alone contain enough carbon to exceed the global ‘carbon budget’ resulting in catastrophic, runaway global warming. Former NASA climate scientist James Hansen has described them as a ‘climate bomb’.

It appears that the coalition of Canadian and US trade negotiators and corporate oil lobbyists now has European climate policy in its sights, and is ready to detonate it.

As tar sands oil arrived in Spain, the EU was discussing the implementation of its fuel quality directive (FQD), designed to lower the climate impact of European transport fuels. Adopted in 2009, it remains to be implemented.

"The oil industry, backed by the US and Canadian governments, has lobbied the EU for years to weaken the FQD so it would not take into account the much higher greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands oil"

The oil industry, backed by the US and Canadian governments, has lobbied the EU for years to weaken the FQD so it would not take into account the much higher greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands oil.

While the unprecedented lobby campaign by the Canadian government, which included threats to use the WTO to bring down the EU climate regulation, started with the adoption of the FQD, the US government has recently stepped up its own lobbying efforts.

After being pushed by the oil industry to bring the FQD into the TTIP negotiations, US trade negotiators have started to attack the legislation. The US government, despite official denials, objected specifically to the classification of tar sands as highly climate polluting, following the oil industry’s line of arguments against the FQD.

"The TTIP and CETA trade talks already threaten to introduce a regulatory race to the bottom, new avenues for corporate influence to weaken safeguards for consumers, workers and the environment"

Unfortunately, it appears that the pressure has paid off. The five-year delay meant there was no legislation in place to discourage tar sands oil from arriving in Spain, and now a leaked version of the new FQD implementation proposal shows the EU backing down and failing to ensure that tar sands emissions are effectively taken into account.

The TTIP and CETA trade talks already threaten to introduce a regulatory race to the bottom, new avenues for corporate influence to weaken safeguards for consumers, workers and the environment.

The same talks are being used as a battering ram to prevent Europe’s climate policy doing what it is supposed to do - protect the climate. Should the oil industry retain its grip on the trade talks, it may well be that Europe’s fuel supply, and its climate ambitions, will be polluted by an influx of tar sands.

About the author

Fabian Flues is tar sands campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe

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