For a while now, the UK government has been dragging its feet behind other European countries trying to deter future imports of Canadian tar sands oil into the EU. The UK, home to British Petroleum (BP), has an oil industry with vested interests in the Albertan tar sands, and opened a new consulate in Calgary in 2011. Recent papers leaked to the Guardian by Greenpeace may be the clearest sign yet that the UK will support Canada in encouraging tar sands oil imports to Europe.
John Vidal writes in the Guardian, that "in EU negotiations on laws intended to encourage the use of low-carbon transport fuels, the UK has rejected language that would class tar sands oil as more polluting than conventional crude or other fuels."
In its fuel quality directive, the European Commission has proposed that fuel produced from tar sands bitumen be designated "highly polluting," contributing 22 per cent more GHG emissions than conventional fuels. Under the directive, suppliers have to make a 10 per cent cut in GHG emissions from their fuels by 2020. Officially labelling tar sands oil as a high polluter would keep European suppliers away from it to help reach that goal, which the Commission hopes will "cut emissions by a cumulative total of 500 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2020."
Faced with six options to implement the above proposal, the UK reportedly rejected all but "the two that would make no differentiation between the carbon content of fuels," citing these as least likely to lead to "unexpected consequences." It's likely that the UK fears the more expected consequences of the directive–the curbing of tar sands oil trade in European markets.
Norman Baker, a British minister for the Department of Transport, has denied Greenpeace's allegations that the UK government isn't committed to reducing GHG emissions. Vidal quotes Baker as saying that the UK "[wants] an effective solution to address the carbon emissions from all highly polluting crudes, not simply those from oil sands… I take this issue seriously and that is why I have arranged to meet Jim Hansen this week to discuss the matter."
Baker made the same point in 2011, saying that the Commission's proposal "should be tackling all high polluting crudes equally, not simply oil sands from one particular country." This even though, as the Guardian pointed out then, the proposal doesn't single out any one nation. A Stanford University study for the Commission also confirmed tar sands fuel to be a higher polluter by a clear margin.
Former NASA climate scientist Jim Hansen, whom Baker was preparing to meet in London when the papers were leaked, has been a strong opponent of tar sands exploitation. In a 2012 op-ed piece for the New York Times, Hansen said that "it will be game over for the climate" if Canada continues to extract oil from the tar sands.
Despite British Prime Minister David Cameron's claim that his would be the "greenest government ever," it seems the UK will remain a staunch ally of the Harper government when it comes to putting the oil industry above the need for proactive action against climate change.
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