The results of a vote over the European Fuel Quality Directive made headlines across Canada yesterday. The two-year-long extensive bully-and-confuse lobbying campaign on the part of the federal and Albertan governments (alongside industry active in the tar sands) against this Directive has not succeeded. With 89 votes in favour, 128 against and 128 abstentions, a decision was not made at the technical expert committee. Instead the decision is moved forward to a political level with a Committee of Environment Ministers, and a decision is expected this June. Notably, countries such as the U.K., France and Netherlands with state-owned oil companies invested in the tar sands, opted to abstain from the vote -- something that a mere two weeks ago seemed unlikely.
You can read a joint Council of Canadians, Climate Action Network Canada and Indigenous Environmental Network response here.
You can also watch me debate a former Albertan Energy Minister, Murray Smith, on CTV Alberta Primetime yesterday about the EU FQD vote here (following an interview with a BBC journalist).
I see this result as an opportunity to further pursue this debate. Minister Oliver's statement yesterday, again falsely accusing the Directive of being discriminatory and unscientific, is evidence of the need for further lobby-busting efforts (for more information, read our lobby-busting fact sheet).
In addition to other actions, the Council of Canadians is looking towards organizing a European version of our lobby-busting tour in March that targets environment and other important government ministries in key voting countries such as the U.K., Amsterdam and France.
Throughout the media coverage of yesterday's vote, a new report by Dr. Andrew Weaver was consistently raised, typically as a barb against campaigns targeting the tar sands (including in my Alberta Primetime interview). Funny how the media picked up on Weaver's report, but failed to connect the European vote with the damning story exposed by Mike DeSouza of a secret memorandum prepared for federal government top bureaucrats stating that damage from the tar sands may be irreversible and poses a "significant environmental and financial risk to the province of Alberta."
The amount of attention being given to Weaver's study warrants a response.
First of all, the study says if humanity burns everything it can get out of the tar sands, this will raise the global mean temperature by about 0.36 C, less if you count only the stuff that is economically recoverable now. It looks at coal and says the warming potential of the world's coal is almost 15 C. It also identifies unconventional gas as a key problem. Hmm, something seems fishy, no? Isn't it worthy of pointing out the obvious -- of course comparing the effects of burning all of the world's coal with burning all of the tar sands in Alberta will produce a pretty substantial difference -- something that is lost in mainstream media coverage of the report.
Secondly, it is wrong to think that the report gives a free pass to the tar sands. The authors clearly state that climate change requires us to transition off our dependence on fossil fuels, including opposing new infrastructure that will maintain this dependence, including the Keystone XL and Enbridge Gateway pipelines. Coal, unconventional gas and tar sands are identified as problematic.
The fact remains (facts that Dr Weaver does not deny -- listen to his The Current interview) that the tar sands are the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. If we are to reduce emissions, we need to tackle the tar sands. Does this mean we should give coal power a free pass? Obviously not.
My final point on this is that outside of the perimeters of this report is a key reason why many campaigns have targeted the tar sands. The tar sands are the cutting edge of our descent into relying on dirtier forms of energy. Producing a barrel of crude from the tar sands requires more energy, around 3 to 5 times more than conventional crude per barrel. Unsustainable expansion in the tar sands, alongside fracking for unconventional gas and pursuing Arctic offshore drilling means we are scraping the bottom of the barrel instead of planning wisely to use what we have and transition to less invasive, more sustainable forms of energy. The Council of Canadians firmly believes this is worthy of exposing and challenging.
Andrea Harden-Donahue, Energy and climate justice campaigner, The Council of Canadians