EU's carbon rating plan for tar sands stalled

Canada heaves sigh of relief

By Ankur Paliwal
Published: Saturday 03 March 2012

The European Union’s plan to rank oil extracted from tar sands as highly polluting hit a roadblock as its fuel quality directive committee (a group of experts) could not reach a unanimous decision in the voting held on February 23.

The oil extracted from tar sands, like those found in the Canadian province of Alberta, was to be given a default value of 107 grams of CO2 equivalent per megajoule (MJ). It means that under the directive, consumers would have to be informed of the greater environmental harm caused by tar sands oil compared to conventional crude oil which has a default value of 87.5 g CO2eq/MJ.

EU’s Fuel Quality Committee required a majority of 255 votes of 345 to pass or defeat the draft measure of EU’s Fuel Quality Directive. But the motion did not receive sufficient votes for either. However, this is not the final word. The proposal will now go to the environment ministers of the EU’s 27 member states. A decision is expected by June, according to European Commission officials.This measure, if passed might have had its bearing on the reduced exports from tar sands oil producing states like Canada. 

The Canadian province of Alberta has the third-largest oil reserves, after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. The energy-intensive process required to extract the crude results in high carbon footprint.

Trade tension
The vote has caused trade tensions. Immediately after the vote, Joe Oliver, Canadian natural resource minister released a press statement praising the decision. “We are pleased to see that many EU countries are opposed to this discriminatory measure. We are working to determine what the next steps will be.” If the EU moves ahead in implementing any other unjustified, discriminatory measures, Canada will not hesitate to defend its interests, Oliver added.

But EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard defended the vote and clarified that she is hopeful that member states would take the right decision. In a statement released after the vote she said: “with all the lobbying against the Commission proposal, I feared that member states' experts would have rejected the proposal in today's experts' committee. I am glad that this was not the case.” “Now our proposal will go to ministers and I hope governments will realise that unconventional fuels, of course, need to account for their considerably higher emissions through separate values, she added.

In December last year, Canada’s ambassador in Brussels shot off a letter to European leaders, suggesting that it would consider lodging a complaint at World Trade Organization should the committee vote in favour of the tar sands motion. “Canada will explore every avenue at its disposal to defend its interests, including at the World Trade Organization,” the letter from David Plunkett, Canada’s ambassador to the EU, reads. The letter was obtained by green group Friends of the Earth Europe under freedom of information laws.


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