Canada’s tar sands lobby tour turns sour amidst protests

• May 15, 2013
tar sands lobby

Protesters met Canadian Environment Minister, Peter Kent as he arrived in Brussels asking him not to “cook the planet”. Creative Commons: Friends of the Earth Europe, 2013

As Canada’s top government officials continue to tour the world in an effort to downplay the harmful impacts of tar sands oil, they have been met with a slew of protesters enraged by the government’s attempts to interfere with their countries’ affairs.

This week Canada’s Prime Minister and Environment Minister are travelling to New York and Brussels respectively to promote the expansion of tar sands oil exports, in what campaigners say is possibly the most vociferous PR campaign by a foreign government ever witnessed.

But no matter how Canada’s top brass spin it, scientific heavyweights say tar sands oil remains an extremely dirty source of energy, with this latest lobbying tour compelling ex-NASA scientist James Hansen and eminent climatologist Mark Jaccard to conduct their own tour, meeting with European officials and statesmen to counteract the Canadian message.

Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent is currently in Brussels, trying to convince European Union decision makers not to label tar sands oil as a highly polluting fuel in a forthcoming decision that could slash EU emissions and dent the prospects of selling tar sands oil elsewhere.

But he has been met by protesters who have once again called for Europe to stand up to Canadian pressure and avoid “cooking the planet” by supporting dirty tar sands.

Europe has a great opportunity to help keep tar sands oil in the ground by labelling it as “highly polluting.”

The EU has proposed the measure under its Fuel Quality Directive, which would label the fuel from the oil sands as more polluting than conventional crude and mandate a 6% reduction in the greenhouse gas intensity of EU fuels by 2020.

This move would drive up the cost of this hazardous fuel and send a strong signal to other regions that could deter countries elsewhere from importing it.

A strong Fuel Quality Directive would cut 19 million tons of carbon dioxide emission every year, the equivalent of taking 7 million cars from Europe’s roads, according to research from environmental group Transport and Environment.

But the Canadian government has made serious efforts to undermine and delay a positive outcome from the European debate, even threatening to attack Europe at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

And leaked documents reveal that the British government is caving in to Canadian pressure. Ahead of a meeting between Norman Baker, a minister at the UK’s Department for Transport, and ex-NASA scientist James Hansen in London, Greenpeace revealed the documents which show that the British government wants to water down the Fuel Quality Directive in line with Canadian demands.

They show the government has rejected language that would class tar sands oil as more polluting than conventional crude or other fuels.

Joined by climatologist Mark Jaccard, Hansen will be visiting with officials and statesmen from across Europe to warn them that tar sands are an environmentally hazardous source of energy that could spell disaster for our climate.

In the first interview of his trip, Hansen, a long time critic of oil sands, warned “the science makes it clear that we should not be going after these unconventional fossil fuels. We cannot afford to put that carbon in the atmosphere.”

He also highlighted the role that the US and Europe would play in deciding whether the Alberta tar sands fields were expanded, saying that the current tours by Canadian officials showed “they’re afraid.”

At an event at the European Parliament, with Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, Jaccard also warned, “the niche for the oil sands industry is fairly narrow” as it “involves hoping that climate policy will fail.”

Hedegaard defended the EU’s position on tar sands saying the “EU Fuel Quality Directive is nothing more, nothing less than accurate labelling and putting a fair price on pollution.”

Across the Atlantic, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes his taxpayer funded show to New York City where he will sit before the Council on Foreign Relations and is expected to use the platform to continue to gloss over the severe environmental consequences of developing the Canadian tar sands.

Both Harper and Kent’s visits this week are consistent with a lengthy public relations tour aimed at watering down legitimate concerns about the consequences of developing harmful tar sands oil.


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