Some advice for the new minister for tar sands
Last week, there was a government reshuffle, and the minister responsible for the UK’s position on the EU Fuel Quality Directive changed. Gone was Norman Baker, with whom we had had two frustratingly unproductive meetings in recent weeks. Now the task lies with the Lib Dems’ new Minister of State for Transport, Baroness Kramer.
The change in personnel comes at a make-or-break-moment. Either the FQD will soon be implemented, sending a hugely important message that there is no place for dirty tar sands oil in Europe’s fuel mix, or the whole process will collapse under the influence of strong-arm tactics from the Canadians and wavering commitment to genuine emissions reductions from Commissioners and EU member states. It really could go either way.
Baroness Kramer may well see this as a poisoned chalice. Whatever she does, she is either going to upset the Canadians and the oil industry, or anyone who wants to see genuine action to address the climate crisis. It is vital that she now leads the UK in securing the swift and long-overdue implementation of the FQD, before European elections next spring usher in yet another, possibly terminal, series of delays.
What the UK government does on the FQD really matters. The future expansion plans for the tar sands industry – catastrophic for local First Nations communities and the global climate – rest on the ability to find new markets for this highly-polluting fuel. If the EU says ‘no, we don’t want this stuff, we are committed to reducing our emissions and therefore there is no place for such carbon-intensive oil in the European market’, this will significantly weaken the business case for the Keystone XL and Energy East pipelines, and for new extraction projects currently jostling for approval such as Shell’s plans for its Jackpine and Pierre River mines. If the UK continues to drag its feet whilst lobbying for weaker alternatives, it is essentially playing into the hands of Harper’s increasingly autocratic petrostate, and the destructive agenda of Shell, BP and the other oil giants.
So here are three pieces of advice for Baroness Kramer. We sincerely hope she takes them.
1. Don’t believe the Canadian government
The Canadian government has orchestrated a disturbingly effective lobbying campaign against the FQD over the past few years. Their various objections, ranging from ‘you’re picking on Canada’ (we aren’t), ‘we’ll take you to the WTO’ (you’ll lose), ‘the science behind this is unsound’ (it isn’t), and ‘this is an unfair burden on industry’ (it’s not), have been backed up by some extraordinary claims about how responsibly, sustainably and transparently the tar sands industry operates – for which Canada feels it is being most cruelly penalised. Indications are that the UK government has swallowed this position whole.
So we urge Baroness Kramer to educate herself about the true impacts of tar sands extraction and production: the thousands of spills – one of which continues to be unstoppable; the pollution of local water systems; the slashing of environmental regulation; the sham of the project approval system; the suppressing of local communities’ health concerns; the gagging of scientists; the growing levels of carbon emissions; and the labelling of environmentalists as terrorists. This excellent summary by Andrew Nikiforuk – ‘Beware our bitumen salesmen’ – would be a good place for her to start.
2. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good
We have often heard from the UK government that they ‘just want the FQD to be as effective as possible’. As a result, they say they are unhappy with the current proposed approach which would label different fuels by their sources, known as ‘feedstocks’. Conventional crude would be given one average carbon intensity value, tar sands another, oil shale another, coal-to-liquid another and so on. They would rather see much more differentiation between all the different types of fuel, with all the different carbon intensities of all sources of conventional crude labelled separately.
We agree that this is an admirable intention, and support the FQD getting there in the future. Unfortunately, at the moment it’s unworkable as the data does not exist. Gathering it will be a monumental task. So we are faced with a choice: implement the FQD with basic feedstock differentiation and a commitment to gather the data for further differentiation in the future, or hold out until it’s perfect. The latter would mean years of further delay, effectively giving the green light to further expansion of the tar sands industry, and meaning that Europe’s commitment to reducing its overall emissions from its transport sector by 6% by 2020 is essentially just a broken promise. It’s exactly what the tar sands lobby wants. Please don’t give them what they want.
3. Stand up to the Coalition bullies
We know that the Canadian government and the oil industry has some extremely powerful friends in the UK cabinet. David Cameron and Stephen Harper have formed a close personal friendship and regularly talk on the phone. Business Secretary Vince Cable used to be Shell’s Chief Economist, and is now officially the government’s ‘contact minister for Shell’. The revolving door between the government and the oil industry has spun into a blur. The pressure on Baroness Kramer to do what’s best for Ministers’ oil buddies, rather than what is best for the climate, will be intense. We hope she remembers that the majority of British people want to see effective action on climate change now, and that she will have huge public support in standing up to the Coalition bullies.
We hope to be able to meet with Baroness Kramer soon, to put these points to her in person. Meanwhile, you can help increase the pressure on her to swiftly implement the FQD by encouraging your MP to sign the FQD Early Day Motion.