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  • Tar sands value to be decided by environment ministers

    The EU’s decision on how to assess the environmental impact of transport fuels made from unconventional sources such as tar sands and coal-to-liquid processing has been delayed until June. Officials from the 27 member states failed to reach agreement on how to assess the controversial fuels.

    Under the EU Fuel Quality Directive agreed in 2009, greenhouse gas emissions from fuel production have to come down by 6% between 2010 and 2020. To achieve this, the EU is giving emissions values to fuels made in different ways, and in October the Commission proposed a package of values that attempted to recognise the climatic impact of each production process. Among the fuels to have different values are conventional oil, oil from tar sands, shale oil, coal-to-liquid, gas-to-liquid and different types of hydrogen and electricity.

    However, most of the debate focused on the tar sands value, with Canada lobbying fiercely against: the value given to this source of fuel is 22% higher than the value for conventional oil to reflect the additional greenhouse gases emitted during production. In an increasingly bitter lobbying campaign, Canada has targeted a number of European governments in the hope of protecting the tar sands industry in the Canadian province of Alberta.

    T&E programme manager Nusa Urbancic said: ‘The good thing about the failure of officials to reach agreement is that it brings the matter into the open, as it is environment ministers who will decide on the values, not officials. The behind-closed-doors process of agreeing this part of the Fuel Quality Directive has enabled vested interests to hold up progress, particularly countries and oil companies with major tar sands investments. It’s now time for every country to show whether it’s serious about wanting a cleaner transport energy future.’

    The Commission says its proposed package of values is science-based and non-discriminatory, but Canada has threatened to take legal action through the World Trade Organisation if tar sands are given a higher value than conventional fuels. Environment ministers are expected to make a final decision in June.