The European Commission must ban the sale of tar sands crude oil in the EU.
By Tom Hayes, a Labour city councillor in Oxford, and Kevin Peel, a Labour city councillor in Manchester
Our new cohort of MEPs only took their seats last week but they’ve already got some big policy issues to grapple with before they have a chance to settle in.
Near the top of the agenda is the latest version of the EU’s Fuel Quality Directive. Article 7a of this legislation sets the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from road transport by 6 per cent between 2010 and 2020 by encouraging the use of low-carbon fuels.
A laudable goal showing the benefits of working together, this measure is an example of the European Union working for us all.
However a well-funded lobbying operation by oil companies and the Canadian government means this Directive has yet to be implemented.
So why is the Canadian government so interested in EU fuel quality targets?
The answer lies in the deposits of crude oil in the tar sands of Alberta covering an area the size of England – a potential boon to oil firms and their friends in Harper’s government.
But, tar sands are also a real threat to the long-term health of our planet. Oil derived from tar sands is the most polluting fossil fuel in production. The process of converting it into fuel releases three to five times the greenhouse gas emissions of conventional oil.
Every day more water is used in tar sands extraction than is used by the entire populations of Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol combined. Millions of tonnes of toxic runoff is produced on a daily basis which regularly leaks into local water supplies, causing severe harm to animal and indigenous human populations.
Armed with independent evidence confirming these environmental concerns, the European Commission included a requirement in the Directive for suppliers to disclose the carbon footprint of the crude oil involved in making their fuel. Maximum targets for associated carbon emissions were also set, leading to an effective ban on the import of oil derived from tar sands to EU markets as too costly.
Further lobbying has reversed this position. As national governments begin selection of their replacements, today’s lame-duck commissioners have quietly watered down the measures in the Directive. Under the latest proposals companies would only be required to cut emissions based on EU averages for the petrol or diesel output at the end of the process and overlook the origins of the original crude oil.
This decision must not stand. The Directive will soon come before the European Parliament, where our democratically-elected representatives will have the opportunity to toughen up the requirements.
If they don’t, we face a monumental setback for global environmental protection. The European Union will damage its deserved reputation as a big player and a world leader on environmental matters at a time when many are questioning its existence.
Exclusively interested in grandstanding gestures which appease Europhobic red-tops, Cameron has a poor record when it comes to the Fuel Quality Directive. In 2012, the last time that it was voted on by the European Council, Cameron’s government abstained, causing the stalemate which has seen this important legislation languish for a further two years.
Once again it is up to Labour to lead the fight. We need to send the strong, clear position at a national level that we cannot support watering down of the legislation. Our MEPs can do so much by linking up with comrades in the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats to argue the case for greater environmental protection in the European Parliament.
Tar sands offer an opportunity to show the EU as a force for good, taking on big business and vested interests to deliver a cleaner world for all generations to enjoy. Tar sands also offer Labour a chance to highlight our stark contrast with Cameron’s Conservatives and Clegg’s Liberal Democrat sell-outs.
By opposing tar sands, we strengthen the European Union’s reputation when its reason for being is in doubt, we deliver policies to tackle our environmental crisis at a time when our climate patterns are worsening, and we show again our willingness to put what’s right ahead of vested interests.
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