EU vote opens the door to more Canadian tar sands imports

Intro

Members of the European Parliament today narrowly failed to reject new fuel quality rules — the EU’s crucial climate legislation aimed at reducing emissions from transport fuels — paving the way for more tar sands oil in Europe. A proposal to adopt a stronger FQD, submitted by the European Commission to the European Parliament, would have discouraged oil companies from using and investing in some of the world’s dirtiest sources of fuel, including Alberta’s tar sands oil and coal-to-liquid. The proposal would have labelled tar sands oil “dirty” in Europe, but was “narrowly” rejected by the parliament. Canada’s oil lobby is among the culprits accused of strong-arming MEPs over the past eight years to ease regulations and encourage a freer flow of tar sands oil  into European markets. Canada’s highly destructive tar sands are the country’s fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. The EU needs to stick by its principles and show clearly that it is a leader on climate action as proclaimed during the UN negotiations in Lima last week. As Socialist MEP Kathleen Van Brempt said: “A week after the climate talks in Lima and a year ahead of the UN climate summit in Paris it would be cynical to lower European standards and it would undermine the EU’s credibility. There is too much at stake and the EU must persuade other countries to move forward.”

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MT @nusha_TE MEPs narrowly approve Commission #FQD implementing measures that do not account for #tarsands emissions http://www.europeanvoice.com/article/meps-narrowly-approve-commissions-tar-sand-plan

Key Points

  • If the EU is serious about tackling climate change, this latest move is far from a step in the right direction. During last week’s climate negotiations in Peru, the EU made clear its frustration at the speed of the talks, but back at home the European institutions seem unclear about Europe’s role as a supposed climate action leader. Yesterday, the European Commission opted, for the time being at least, to scrap two  two pieces of legislation that would have cut emissions, and now MEPs have narrowly failed to reject new fuel quality rules, paving the way for more tar sands in Europe.
  • Canada has no trouble pouring funds into oil-bolstering lobby efforts, despite pinching pennies when it comes to the environment. The federal government set aside $321-million for “environmentally responsible” programmes last year, and left nearly one-third of those funds untouched. Meanwhile, Ottawa budgeted even more funds for the country’s oil and gas sector, and overspent nearly 10 per cent more than the amount allotted in the previous fiscal year. While the federal government funnels millions of dollars into promoting big oil both domestically and abroad, Canada’s prime minister is turning his back on projects that fight for the rights and wellbeing of the people and planet.

Background

A vote in the European Parliament has narrowly overturned a plan to label tar sands oil as highly polluting, opening the way for more imports of the dirty oil into Europe. After years of delays, the European Commission finally published its plans to implement the Fuel Quality Directive — a crucial piece of climate legislation agreed on five years ago which aims to reduce emissions from transport fuels.

The legislation sets a target to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of transport fuels by 6% by 2020. However, under strong pressure from the oil industry and the Canadian government, the Commission has removed a key obstacle to Canada exporting tar sands crude to Europe.

The initial FQD proposal would have labelled the tar sands as more highly-polluting oil source than crude oil and therefore set out measures to discourage its import to help Europe reduce CO2 emissions and move towards lower-carbon energy supplies.

Environmental campaigners and Green politicians criticised today’s vote as a step backwards.

Socialist MEP Jo Leinen said: “It is a dangerous precedent if a majority in the Parliament permits a weakening of environmental standards. The Fuel Quality Directive is not linked to the EU-Canada Free Trade Agreement and we will take a position on each one on its merit… I am puzzled by the fact that the European Commission’s proposal ignores its own impact assessment. How does that fit into the ‘better regulation’ agenda?”

Bas Eickhout, climate change spokesperson for the Greens in the European Parliament commented that:

“By waving through the fuel quality rules proposed by the EU Commission, we are opening the door to tar sands oil in Europe and this is deeply regrettable. The production of oil from tar sands is not only dirty and damaging to the environment, it also has a far greater impact on climate change than conventional oil. If the EU is serious about combating climate change, it needs to be consistent with all its policies. A silver lining, which bodes well, is that we came close to securing the required support to reject this flawed proposal.”

The Brussels-based NGO Transport & Environment warned last year that dropping the FQD legislation would spell “bad news” for Europe’s climate targets and allow a “flood of tar sands to wreck its carbon footprint” – particularly if new pipelines are approved. The Natural Resources Defense Council also warned that imports of Canadian tar sands into Europe could “grow from a trickle to a flood” and could skyrocket to 700,000 barrels a day by 2020 without a strong policy in place. This would result in an emissions increase in transport equivalent of adding around six million cars on European roads.

Tar sands – also known as oil sands – are deposits of bitumen crude oil mixed with sand that recent advances in technology have made possible to extract and refine into viable gasoline. Currently, the most prolific source of tar sands is situated within the boreal forests and peatlands of Alberta, Canada – occupying an area larger than the Netherlands – and the industry is expanding rapidly.

Production of oil in Alberta alone is expected to triple from 1.5 to 4.5 million barrels a day by 2035, potentially adding 706 million tonnes of CO2 to global emissions annually. The oil is considered to be responsible for a higher proportion of carbon emissions than other source of oil, with one study finding it 23 per cent more greenhouse gases intensive than conventional crude oil.

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Key Quotes

  • “I understand that there is strong pressure from some Canadian lobbies to open the European market for specific fuel types. We will not let this legislation be watered down by any pressure coming from outside, especially not from those trying to claim there is a link between this legislation and the recently-concluded Canada-Europe Trade Agreement (CETA)… The Commission should make sure that the calculation methods for the lifecycle of greenhouse-gas emissions from vehicles stimulate the transition to carbon-free energy in Europe.” – Matthias Groote MEP, Socialists and Democrats Group (S&D) in the European Parliament spokesperson on health and the environment
  • “The proposal as it now stands is inefficient and unfair to those innovators and producers who are investing in cleaner transport… A week after the climate talks in Lima and a year ahead of the UN climate summit in Paris it would be cynical to lower European standards and it would undermine the EU’s credibility. There is too much at stake and the EU must persuade other countries to move forward.” – Kathleen Van Brempt MEP, S&D vice-president  
  • “It is a dangerous precedent if a majority in the Parliament permits a weakening of environmental standards. The Fuel Quality Directive is not linked to the EU-Canada Free Trade Agreement and we will take a position on each one on its merit… I am puzzled by the fact that the European Commission’s proposal ignores its own impact assessment. How does that fit into the ‘better regulation’ agenda?” – S&D MEP Jo Leinen
  • “By waving through the fuel quality rules proposed by the EU Commission, we are opening the door to tar sands oil in Europe and this is deeply regrettable. The production of oil from tar sands is not only dirty and damaging to the environment, it also has a far greater impact on climate change than conventional oil. If the EU is serious about combatting climate change, it needs to be consistent with all its policies. A silver lining, which bodes well, is that we came close to securing the required support to reject this flawed proposal.” – Bas Eickhout, Green climate change spokesperson
  • “Despite the spin, tar sands oil has nothing to do with European energy security but is instead merely about placating the Canadian government in the context of the EU-Canada trade agreement. We should not be making EU laws to the order of the Canadian government. Europe does not need this highly-polluting fuel and we should not be encouraging its production.” – Bas Eickhout, Green climate change spokesperson
  • “The bigger picture is the future of the fuel quality directive itself. It was one of the 5 legislative measures adopted by the EU at the end of 2008 as part of its climate and energy package and is a crucial piece of legislation that should deliver actual emissions reductions for 2020 and beyond. We now have a flawed methodology for EU fuel quality rules and this will limit the effectiveness of the legislation for delivering greenhouse gas reductions. While we want the legislation to continue beyond 2020, we believe this flawed methodology must be rectified.” – Bas Eickhout, Green climate change spokesperson

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