Hypocrisy and the Alberta Tar Sands
This Thursday, officials in the European Union will vote on a fuel quality directive (FQD) that would give higher carbon emissions values on fuels depending on their source. According to the law, fuel from conventional oil would have a greenhouse gas rating of 87.5 grams per megajoule. Fuels from oil shale: 131.3. Fuels from coal: 172. But, most importantly for Canada, fuels derived from tar sands would be rated at 107 g per megajoule. That’s 22% higher than the rating for conventional oil.
According to Connie Hedegaard, European commissioner for climate action (Canada needs one of those!), the new fuel directive is “clearly science-based”. She goes on to say that “With this measure, we are sending a clear signal to fossil fuel suppliers. As fossil fuels will be a reality in the foreseeable future, it’s important to give them the right value.”
Seems fair. And reasonable. Especially when you consider the process required to make Tar Sands oil. For the oil that is near the surface, making one barrel of oil requires that you need to dig up (with diesel-powered trucks) two tons of bitumen. And in order to separate the the oil for the dirt, the bitumen needs to be heated at very high temperatures (by burning natural gas). Even the “in-situ” process, which heats up the oil where it is found, requires the burning of natural gas. And so, even without reading the scientific literature, it makes sense that tar sands fuels would have a higher rating than conventional fuel which is simply pumped out of the ground.
In comes the hypocrisy. On January 9th, 2012, Canada’s Natural Resources minister wrote an open letter to Canadians, which I wrote about previously. In his letter the minister made the following statement about “environmental and other radical groups:
Finally, if all other avenues have failed, they will take a quintessential American approach: sue everyone and anyone to delay the project even further. They do this because they know it can work.
And that is exactly what the Canadian government plans to do if the EU’s fuel law is passed. After spending months lobbying EU governments in the hopes of convincing them to vote against this law, our government (in the form of David Plunkett, ambassador to the EU) has announced that if the law is passed, it will take the EU to court. In the case, court is the World Trade Organization (WTO). Canada’s argument is that the law would discriminate against Alberta Tar Sands oil. And, according to the Globe and Mail, the WTO “requires fully equivalent treatment to imports of ‘like’ goods wherever they come from.”
I do not know much about legal law. But the argument here is not about “where” a product comes from. It is about the carbon emissions associated with the product. And if countries are unable to properly label and tax products according to their carbon footprint, we have a serious problem.
Just like the airline emissions fees, this is another example of the EU attempting to pass the type of regulation that we need in order to reduce carbon emissions. Governments (and the industries that influence them) can complain all they want, but it needs to be done. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global carbon emissions need to peak by 2015 and drop by at least 50% by 2050 if we want to avert catastrophic climate change. Putting fees on emissions is the best way to reduce emissions and encourage the development of low-carbon alternatives.
In my humble opinion, by planning to sue the implementation of the EU fuel quality directive, our Canadian government is demonstrating how it has no intentions to fight climate change.