The full European Parliament today narrowly approved weak fuel quality rules that fail to discourage oil companies from using and investing in the world’s dirtiest oil such as tar sands and coal-to-liquid. 337 MEPs voted against because they found the rules too weak, more than the 325 who approved them. But it fell short of the qualified majority of 376 needed for rejection.
Today’s vote puts an end to eight years  of U-turns and delays by the Commission  and heavy-handed lobbying by Canada, the US and oil majors . The Parliament’s vote sends a clear signal that a stronger policy to address the climate impact of oil especially of the unconventional variety, is needed after 2020.
Sustainable transport group Transport & Environment (T&E) thinks that the approved implementing measures are too weak to prevent Europe from using higher-carbon crude from unconventional sources but recognises that a basic tracking system of the fuels used in transport is better than nothing – but this system needs to be strengthened by the new Commission in the 2030 energy and climate framework.
Reacting to the vote, Nusa Urbancic of T&E said: “The fierce lobbying of Canada and Big Oil led the Commission to weaken the dirty fuel law. But today the Parliament stood up and declared that more has to be done on dirty oil after 2020. The new Commission should listen to the representatives of the citizens and prevent oil companies from betting their future on dirty unconventional fuels that are a climate time-bomb and are extremely costly to extract.”
The newly adopted implementing measures require fuel suppliers to use just one single EU average value for oil (one for petrol and one for diesel), whether their products originate from high-carbon sources like tar sands or not. This system would not discourage the use of the most polluting oil.
The approved law, however, will mandate oil companies to report the origin and trade name of their crude oil, bringing a degree of transparency to this opaque industry, which could represent the first step for a more robust system after 2020. Now European nations will have the opportunity to strengthen this tracking system and can require more transparency on the fuels brought to their markets, just like some have done on biofuels.
Nusa Urbancic continued: “We know the origin of the coffee we drink and the chocolate we eat. But we are in the dark when it comes to the hundreds of billions worth of petrol and diesel we put in our cars. In an era of enhanced corporate accountability and transparency, this is just absurd and incomprehensible. We urge EU countries to oblige each oil company to make public such basic information as origin and climate impacts of their products.”
Last year, the scientific community wrote to former Commission president Barroso to urge him to go ahead with labelling tar sands and other dirty forms of oil as more polluting than conventional crude, arguing that ‘we cannot burn all of the fossil fuels without causing dangerous climate change’.
Transport is almost entirely dependent on oil: it causes 31% of the EU’s total CO2 emissions and will become the biggest source of climate-changing emissions soon after 2020. The FQD is a key law to promote cleaner transport fuels and is part of the EU's wider goals to cut carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2020.
 In January 2007, the European Commission published the first proposal to revise the FQD, which included a mandatory target to reduce the carbon intensity of transport fuels by 10% by 2020.
 Agreed in April 2009, the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) for the first time obliges fuel suppliers in Europe to reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity of transport fuel by 6% by 2020. The law lacked rules on how to account for GHG emissions from different sources of crude oil, which represents 95% of EU’s transport fuel market, and electricity. This meant that the enacted target could only be met with biofuels.
 Big European corporations with stakes in tar sands projects include Royal Dutch Shell, with US$26bn in planned investments for the next decade, BP of the UK and Total of France.