Ignore tar sands emissions! EU buckles under US, Canada pressure in TTIP talks

Syncrude refinery, Alberta. Photo from the 2014 Tar Sands Healing Walk (www.healingwalk.org) by Rainforest Action Network.
Syncrude refinery, Alberta. Photo from the 2014 Tar Sands Healing Walk (www.healingwalk.org) by Rainforest Action Network.
The EU's Fuel Quality Directive is set to be the first casualty of the TTIP trade talks, writes Derek Leahy. Canada and the US have threatened to pull out unless the EU ignores the massive emissions of oil from tar sands - and the EU is collapsing under the pressure.
These agreements are less about trade and more about limiting the ability of governments to effectively regulate in the public interest.

For five long years the federal government and the oil industry have lobbied against the European Union labeling oilsands (also called tar sands) bitumen as 'dirty oil' in its Fuel Quality Directive (FQD).

A new report reveals the how recent involvement of the US in the lobby offensive to keep the EU market open for bitumen exports has tipped the scales in favour of oilsands proponents.

"The sustained attacks by the US and Canada on the European Union's key legislation on transport fuel emissions seem to be paying off", Fabian Flues of Friends of the Earth Europe, the author of the report, admits.

The report shows the EU Fuel Quality Directive, a piece of legislation designed to reduce global warming greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the EU's transportation sector, is unlikely to acknowledge fuels from different sources of oil - conventional oil, oilsands, oil shale - have different carbon footprints.

All oil is the same - no matter how great the disparity in emissions

Instead all oils will more than likely be treated as having the same GHG emissions intensity 'value' in the Directive. This is exactly what Canada, the oil industry and now the US have been pushing for.

"Europe is again failing to stand up effectively for its own climate policy", Flues says.

The EU has not fallen for the federal government's argument that bitumen produces only marginally more GHG emissions than conventional oil in extraction, processing, and use.

A European Commission study found bitumen's carbon footprint is between 12% - 40% higher than conventional oil as so much of the bitumen produced from the tar sands is burnt to fuel the energy-intensive extraction process.

The report reveals trade, not science, is the cause of the EU backing off from implementing the Fuel Quality Directive as it was originally meant to be implemented.

US and Canada undermining the Fuel Quality Directive

To reduce GHG emissions from transportation the Directive discourages transport fuel suppliers from selling fuels with high carbon footprints in the EU. Identifying which fuels have higher carbon footprints was meant to make things easier for fuel suppliers to reduce the GHG emissions output of their product.

"The delay and weakening of the European Fuel Quality Directive once again reveals that agreements like CETA (the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement) are less about trade and more about limiting the ability of governments to effectively regulate in the public interest", Scott Harris, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians, says.

These agreements are less about trade and more about limiting the ability of governments to effectively regulate in the public interest.

The report argues the US and Canada are using their own ongoing trade negotiations with the EU to undermine the Fuel Quality Directive. Canada and the EU have consistently maintained their trade negotiations for the CETA and the Directive are two separate issues. The evidence indicates otherwise:

"The foreign policy think tank The Polish Institute for International Affairs reported that the FQD had been raised in the CETA negotiations and there have been calls in Canada to suspend the negotiations until the high GHG value for tar sands has been resolved to Canadian satisfaction", the report states.

Canada: 'Void the FQD or we void the trade deal'

"While other governments are trying to make communities safer, the Canadian government is using its political muscle to push things in the opposite direction so it can export high carbon tar sands oil as quickly as possible", says Mike Hudema, climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada.

"It's astonishing that as we watch the fires spread in the Northwest Territories and the flood waters rise in the Prairies our government still isn't getting the message - climate change is real and we need action immediately."

The Globe and Mail reported as earlier as 2011 that anonymous sources had said Canada had threatened "to void the free trade deal" if the Fuel Quality Directive was implemented.

"Even before it is signed, CETA is being used to water down much-needed public policy. Imagine what will happen to regulations on both sides of the Atlantic if the deal is actually implemented", Harris of the Council of Canadians says.

US joins the lobby offensive in TTIP talks

The US in some ways has been more open about its lobbying against the Fuel Quality Directive.

US Trade Representative Michael Froman confirmed he "raised these issues [of the FQD implementation] with senior Commission officials on several occasions, including in the context of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnerships (TTIP)."

The TTIP is the highly controversial trade agreement between the US and the EU currently under negotiation.

European Commission documents obtained by Friends of the Earth Europe reveal the US trade missions has "substantive concerns" with the Fuel Quality Directive singling out fuels produced from bitumen as having a higher carbon footprint than conventional oil.

FQD could be the TTIP's 'first environmental casualty'

Like Canada and the oil industry, the US wants all oil - regardless of GHG emissions - to be treated the same as conventional oil in the Directive. According to the report it appears this new pressure from the US is the straw breaking the camel's back:

"[Media] reports claim that the system chosen by the Commission is one of averaging of all crudes - exactly what the US mission had requested in its e-mail. If they are correct, the new FQD proposal will be considerably less effective in discouraging the import of highly climate damaging oil, such as tar sands.

"It might well be the case that the FQD is the first environmental casualty of the TTIP negotiations."

Recently eleven members of US Congress sent a letter to the US trade mission expressing their concerns "that official US trade negotiations could undercut the EU's commendable efforts to reduce carbon pollution."



Derek Leahy is a freelance writer and journalist born and raised in Brooklin, Canada, now living in Ottawa. He also volunteers his time helping communities become aware of Line 9 and Energy East. See other articles he has written.

This article was originally published by DeSmog Canada.