A coalition of environmental organisations has been campaigning for the European Union’s Fuel Quality Directive to address the significantly higher greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) resulting from tar sands oil, which would effectively stop the controversial fuel, primarily produced in Alberta, Canada entering Europe.
The coalition, comprising The Co-operative, Friends of the Earth Europe, Greenpeace, Transport & Environment and WWF, will today present the Parliament with an EU citizen’s petition signed by over 15,000 people and calling on them to ‘keep tar sands out of Europe’. Support has come from an influential cross-party group of MEPs on the Parliament’s Environment Committee.
Article 7a of the 2009 Fuel Quality Directive sets a legally binding six per cent GHG reduction target for Europe's transport fuels by 2020. Proposals for how this will be achieved are currently being finalised by the European Commission before being presented to the Parliament for agreement in coming weeks.
Originally the Commission indicated that it would give tar sands oil a greenhouse gas emissions factor 23% higher than for conventional oil. But following lobbying by the Canadian government and oil industry all reference to a separate figure was dropped, though it was maintained for other unconventional fuels such as coal-to-liquid.
The campaigners want the tar sands value to be reinstated in the final proposals, to recognise that tar sand fuels emit at least 23 per cent more GHGs than conventional oil. They are also calling on Parliament to reject the Commission’s proposals if it fails to make these changes.
Linda McAvan MEP, who sits on the Parliament’s Environment Committee said: 'We welcome the ‘keep tar sands out of Europe’ citizen’s petition and campaign, which reinforces our resolve to clean up Europe’s transport fuels. Today our clear message to the Commission is that its proposals must address high carbon tar sands fuels. Failure to recognise their substantially higher emissions would jeopardise the Commission’s proposals when they come to Parliament.”
Paul Monaghan, Head of Sustainability and Social Goals at The Co-operative said: “Failure to address tar sands emissions would undermine the whole objective of this landmark climate change legislation. If Europe stands up for cleaner fuels and a low carbon future by rectifying the directive, it would signal to oil companies and their investors that tar sands expansion is a risky business.”
The extraction and production of tar sands oil is very energy intensive and emits on average three times more GHGs than for conventional oil. From a lifecycle perspective (from extraction through to vehicle combustion), these fuels emit between 18% and 49% more GHGs compared to the EU average for conventional oil. A recent
study released by the Commission itself found the average GHG intensity of tar sands fuels to be 23% higher.
Canada’s tar sands are the world’s second largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia. Production is currently 1.5 million barrels of oil per day with the oil industry calling for $379 billion of investment to increase production to 4 million barrels by 2025. Campaigners state that fully exploiting the tar sands would be sufficient alone to take us to the brink of runaway climate change.
Tar sands oil is not only a high carbon fuel but its extraction is damaging vast areas of pristine wilderness through deforestation and pollution, threatening the traditional way of life of the indigenous First Nation Cree.
As part of The Co-operative’s Toxic Fuels campaign to halt tar sands expansion it is also touring a dramatic street gallery called Tarnished Earth, which will be outside of the European Parliament in Brussels throughout March. The exhibition by photographer Jiri Rezac tells the story of how Canada’s magnificent boreal forest is being destroyed by the rush to exploit tar sands. It will be officially opened today by Jo Leinen, Chair of the Parliament’s Environment Committee, who will participate with other MEPs on the Committee in the petition hand-in to Parliament.