Tackling Dirty Fuels

Extraction of the tar or oil sands in the Canadian province of Alberta has been described as the the biggest environmental crime in history.

And as negotiations towards the new trade agreement between Canada and the European Union continue, many environmental campaigners are lobbying MEPs and the Commission.

At a time when we are trying to dramatically cut our greenhouse gas emissions, I absolutely agree that we should not be encouraging the exploitation of a fuel source which creates a carbon footprint three times greater than other fuel sources during the extraction and refinement phase.

In principle, we in the EU already have legislation in place to protect against possible imports of tars and oil from Canada. The EU’s Fuel Quality Directive is designed to reduce the carbon footprint of all transport fuels by 6% by 2020. The responsibility to meet this target is placed on the fuel suppliers, who will not want to add oil from tar sands into their final fuel blend if this makes them miss their emission reduction target – as they would then not be allowed to sell their product on the European market.

However, the small print is crucial, as well as highly technical. The European Commission is in the process of fine-tuning “default values” for conventional and non-conventional fuel sources, to help suppliers identify the most carbon-intensive imports.

Linda McAvan MEP, Labour’s Environment spokesperson in Brussels, has asked the European Commissioner responsible for climate action, Connie Hedegaard, to keep tar sands separate from conventional fuels, therefore reinforcing the EU’s commitment to a low carbon future. In response Commissioner Hedegaard gave an encouraging answer, saying that it is the Commission’s intention to set different default values for tar sands.

The Commission has not currently come to a final decision on this issue, as it is still subject to an internal Commission review. However, it is clear that keeping tar sands out of the EU would certainly send a message that we in Europe mean business in realising a low carbon future.

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  1. Robert Crosby says:

    I'll be interested to see how this one develops, Glenis. I hope the Commission sticks to its guns… I've spoken to several people lately who would love to cut their carbon footprint by switching to an electric car (technical arguments about possible trade-offs to do with battery manufacture etc notwithstanding) if the purchase price could be dropped.

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