Protesters invade British government office over tar sands trade deal

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On Friday morning, a group of protesters invaded Britain's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and are demanding a meeting with Stephen Green, the new minister for trade. Calling themselves the "Big Society Trade Negotiators," they are concerned that trade negotiations between the EU and Canada, due to start in Brussels on Monday, will dramatically boost Europe's involvement in the Canadian tar sands -- the most destructive project on earth.

Unbeknownst to most U.K. citizens, the EU and Canada are in the midst of negotiating an ambitious free trade deal (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA) that could open up the European market to imports of carbon-intensive tar sands oil for the first time [1]. Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the talks is the plan to allow multinational companies like BP and Shell to sue national governments over social and environmental regulations [2]. This is happening despite the increasingly urgent need for governments to crack down on the destructive and dangerous activities of such companies.

British shareholders, NGOs and campaigners have expressed increasing concern over the involvement of UK banks and oil companies in the highly polluting extraction of "dirty oil" from the tar sands [3]. Emitting three to five times as much CO2 as conventional oil drilling, the tar sands industry is destroying the livelihoods and health of local Indigenous communities and decimating ancient forests and wildlife across an area of Alberta larger than England [4]. The proposed trade deal would increase Europe's involvement in the project and significantly expand the market for this dirty oil.

There will be another protest in Brussels on Monday, Jan. 17 outside the negotiations themselves, involving U.K., European and Canadian groups and Indigenous activists [5].

Jess Worth from the UK Tar Sands Network said: "Stephen Green has been parachuted in by the coalition government as trade minister. Completely unelected, this former Chair of HSBC was rapidly handed a seat in the Lords and then began his new job on the 1st of January. Given that HSBC is the world's 13th largest investor in the tar sands, we are concerned that he will put the interests of oil companies and the tar sands industry ahead of environmental and social concerns in these, his first major trade negotiations. So the Big Society Trade Negotiators have come to help him make the right decisions."

Emily Coats, also from the UK Tar Sands Network, added "The CETA trade negotiations between Canada and the EU are in full swing, yet most citizens have never heard of them. Climate scientists have warned that further tar sands extraction could lock us into disastrous and unstoppable climate change, but Europe is sleepwalking into major involvement with the project. We're calling for the talks to be put on hold until there can be proper public scrutiny, and the many social, environmental and Indigenous rights problems can be addressed."

[1] The CETA negotiations are about halfway through and due to be completed towards the end of 2011. The next round of talks will take place in Brussels next week.

[2] For a full explanation of the problems with CETA, please see "Keep Europe out of the tar sands!", a briefing by Council of Canadians, Indigenous Environmental Network and UK Tar Sands Network, available here.

[3] The last 18 months have seen a growing number of organisations taking action against British banks and companies with links to the tar sands. Both BP and Shell have faced shareholder resolutions over their tar sands investments, as well as protests at their offices and petrol stations. The Royal Bank of Scotland has also come under fire for being the 7th largest global investor in the industry, using British taxpayers' money, and were targeted by the Camp for Climate Action, who camped for a week in the grounds of their global headquarters in Edinburgh last summer. For more information see:

Indigenous Environmental Network

UK Tar Sands Network

Platform

Camp for Climate Action

[4] For more information on the destructive nature of the tar sands, please see:

Indigenous Environmental Network

Dirty Oil Sands

UK Tar Sands Network

 

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