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Lobby Busting Day 3: Tar Sands Lobbying House of Cards will Fall

Today I was joined by Hannah McKinnon of Climate Action Network Canada and Ben Powless of the Indigenous Environmental Network on the third day of our lobby-busting tour of EU Embassies in Ottawa. As mentioned in my previous blog, our purpose is to challenge the arguments being brought forward by Canadian lobbying against the EU Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) in the interests of ensuring future markets for the tar sands. Canadian lobbying efforts include being the only non EU member to engage in the FQD consultancy process, over 110 lobbying meetings in 2010 alone, reports and advertisements. For more information on the FQD including an action alert collecting pictures of Canadians, see our webpage.

The Council of Canadians is organizing this tour alongside Climate Action Network Canada and the Indigenous Environmental Network.

Thus far we have met with the Embassies of Poland, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Netherlands, Norway (not an EU member, but we wanted to discuss the broader tar sands advocacy strategy), Austria, Italy and Germany, with more to come next week.

Through this process we’ve learnt at least three embassies have been lobbied already by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and/or the Canadian government. Also confirmed is the status of the Directive before a committee of experts and how untypical it is for this committee to take so long to deliberate over a Directive that has the recommendation of the EU Commission. Amongst other reasons, this speaks to the heavy handed Canadian lobbying (efforts we hope will backfire) on this Directive (part of the broader EU FQD policy).

Coming out of these three days of meetings – outside of having a greater appreciation of various EU countries history and culture – we certainly have heard a number of opinions on this Directive. By in large, we are feeling more confident of support for the Directive and that the information we have provided, including an open letter from civil society organizations representing millions of Canadians, will be shared.

The UK Embassy declined our invitation, explaining that they don’t see there being ‘much more to add at this stage’ noting that deliberations are currently happening in Brussels.  The UK, home to British Petroleum which is heavily invested in the tar sands, was the first (that I remember) to vocalize criticism of the Directive and reflect the language of Canadian lobbying efforts. This is something our friends, the UK Tar Sands Network have continued to expose and challenge in relation to ongoing Canada European trade negotiations (Check out their tar monster!).

Throughout our meetings, Hannah provided a broader narrative on the Canadian government’s inaction on climate change (including a lack of any federal policy regulating emissions from the tar sands) while engaging in lobbying efforts to undermine other countries (and international) climate action, relating this to a commitment to ongoing, unfettered development of the tar sands. I provided information to counteract the well reported accusation of the FQD being discriminatory to Canadian tar sands and responded to trade based threats being issued by our government. Both Clayton and Ben provided information on how the tar sands is not just a greenhouse gas emissions concern but are fundamentally a human rights issue with elevated rates of cancer downstream and Treaty and Indigenous rights violations, and that policies such as these will put needed pressure on the Canadian government to act.

Here are some of the Canadian lobbying PR statements we busted:

The EU FQD does not discriminate against Canadian tar sands.

The Directive contains a value for bitumen. While Canada’s development is certainly the most advanced, there is exploration and plans underway to exploit bitumen in a number of other countries.  The Directive is also taking the logical approach of targeting the heaviest crudes first. Alongside bitumen there are values for shale oil, gas to liquid and coal to liquid. Finally, there is the capacity under the Directive for a supplier that believes it’s crude is cleaner than the default value, to have this evaluated and have their value changed (thereby incentivizing better production practices).

The Canadian tar sands are carbon intensive.

Best buddies CAPP, the Harper and Albertan governments, often downplay the carbon intensity of tar sands while overstating the techno fixes underway to ‘green’ bitumen. Studies by IHS-Cambridge and Jacobs Consultancy and Life Cycle Associates which find Canadian tar sands closer to the emissions of conventional oil are often referred to. These studies have been criticized for a serious lack of transparency regarding details and important sources of emissions were not considered. The majority of evidence indicates the tar sands are carbon intensive. The peer-reviewed study by a Stanford University professor Adam Brandt financed by the European Commission lends evidence to the carbon intensity of tar sands.  This report found tar sands are 23 percent more greenhouse gas (GHG) intensive than the average for conventional crude currently used in the EU. A recent assessment of 13 scientific studies found tar sands fuels to be 18 to 49 per cent more GHG intensive than conventional oil consumed in the EU.

Stating that tar sands are 1/1000 of global GHG emissions is simply using ‘scale’ to minimize the challenge of tar sands emissions when in fact, this scale of emissions from the extraction of one resource is significant. The tar sands have been called the largest industrial project on the planet and they are projected to account for over 100% of the growth in Canada’s emissions by 2020. The province of Alberta has per capita emissions of 72 tonnes of CO2 per year, the highest in the world.   The tar sands have been referred to as a ticking carbon bomb by a chief NASA scientist James Hansen, who has also said that their continued exploitation would mean, ‘game over for the climate’.

Techno fixes that reduce the intensity of tar sands are also emphasized in Canadian lobbying efforts. While there was a reduction in GHG intensity of tar sands crude between 1990 and 2008 but emphasizing this misses the fuller picture. Reduction has levelled off in recent years and was primarily the result of one-time advances, while new technologies may take over a decade to be viable.  The growing shift away from strip mining towards a technique referred to as in situ  is also leading to increased GHGs and predictions that the GHG intensity of tar sands is now on the rise.

The tar sands are not ethical oil.

There is simply is no such thing as ethical oil. Climate change is already causing more extreme fires and weather events, melting glaciers and ice caps, floods and more. Even the International Energy Agency’s recent report recognizes we are on a path to catastrophic climate change with current pledges for action on climate change setting us on track to at least a 3.5 degree rise in global temperature.  Ongoing reliance of fossil fuels, particularly carbon intensive unconventional oil like the tar sands, is unethical.

Many First Nations in Northern Alberta and British Colombia are concerned about the elevated rates of cancer in local communities downstream from the tar sands. In one case, Fort Chipewyan community members have elevated cancer rates 30% above Alberta’s general population.  Local communities believe if the tar sands continue to expand it will be at great detriment to their health.

The EU FQD not a trade barrier: trade interests must be balanced with environmental priorities.

This has emerged as both a concern that a case could be brought forward to the WTO and under the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) Negotiations. Trade law should never be allowed to undermine important environmental and social policy, where this occurs it is a fault with trade law, not said policy.

If European decision makers want to ensure that the EU FQD can not be challenged under CETA, they should reject the inclusion of investor-state provisions and carve out the Directive from the trade negotiations.