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Canada’s lobbying tars EU climate legislation

The European Parliament has narrowly voted to allow a weakened Fuel Quality Directive, a modest climate measure to reduce emissions from transport fuel by 6 per cent by 2020, to proceed.

Originally the Directive included a label identifying tar sands as a high carbon fuel, thereby discouraging it’s use. This label was removed after heavy, well funded lobbying on the part of federal and Albertan governments, and industry.

In a last ditch attempt to sway the vote, Canadian ambassador to the European Union, David Plunkett sent an email to MEPs again encouraging support for the current draft and implying the early version of the Directive was not based on science. This has been a consistent drum beat to this lobbying effort. This despite the fact that the tar sands label was based on independent analysis by a Stanford professor confirming the high carbon nature of producing tar sands. A finding mirroring many other independent scientific reports. But that appears to have little bearing on the Canadian and Albertan government that like to cherry pick science to meet their objectives for tar sands expansion.  

In the end, more parliamentarians actually voted to reject the revised fuel quality directive than accept it but with 48 abstentions, their numbers were short of the 376 votes required for an absolute majority to overturn the proposed directive.

According to transcripts of the debate, many MEPs clearly denounced the lobbying and clearly support a stronger directive. 

Friends of the Earth Europe responded, in a press release, “We are disappointed that the European Commission’s weak proposals to limit tar sands and other highly polluting fuels have passed despite a rejection by the majority of members of parliament voting today and the previous rejection by the Parliament’s Environment Committee,” said Colin Roche, extractives campaigner with Friends of the Earth Europe.

“This is a clear signal that the Parliament is dissatisfied with the Commission bowing to the pressure of the oil industry, the U.S., and Canada. The Commission failed to deliver a proposal that acts on the threat of tar sands to the climate, turning strong action into empty rhetoric. Weak legislation is not ‘better regulation’. The Commission now needs to take stronger steps to keep this climate killer out of Europe.”

What next? 

In Europe, people will be pushing member states to do all they can to strengthen the FQD at the national level. The weakened FQD is also important motivation to turn up efforts to reject the Canadian European Trade Agreement (CETA), before it is ratified. CETA negotiations have been used to put pressure on the EU to remove all disincentives to imports of tar sands oil.  The proposed investor state provisions of CETA would also allow corporations to challenge both European and Canadian (were we to have a pro-active government on climate change) measures to address climate change and the ability of oil and gas companies to exploit resources.  Questions around CETA and how it was used weaken the FQD featured prominently in the FQD debate. 

In Canada, we must also double down our efforts to stop the Canadian, European Trade Agreement (CETA) (see the latest here from Newfoundland and Labrador’s Premier threatening to pull support for CETA) and stem the flow of tar sands exports to Europe.  This includes rejecting the transport of diluted bitumen on tankers  down the St Lawrence and the proposed 1.1 million barrel per day Energy East pipeline from Alberta to export ports in Cacouna Quebec, and Saint John New Brunswick.