Tar Sands Solutions Network

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Unchecked expansion of the Canadian tar sands has become a contentious issue all over the world, especially in Europe where climate change policy and action are taken very seriously.

The European Union has committed to reducing the greenhouse gas intensity of fuels used in vehicles by six per cent by 2020, and have recommended that tar sands oil be categorized as 23 per cent dirtier than traditional forms of crude. In response, Big Oil and the Canadian government have mounted an unprecedented lobbying campaign to undermine Europe's clean fuel policies, which has delayed the implementation of the EU's Fuel Quality Directive and interfered in progress toward meeting these emissions-reduction goals.

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- European Commission aims to categorize tar sands oil as 23% more carbon intensive
Key Problems:
- Canada fiercely opposes the categorization of oil sands as dirty oil
- Canada is aggressively lobbying to undermine EU climate action
- Implementing regulations delayed
Current Status:
- Implementation of the Fuel Quality Directive has been delayed
- First shipment of dirty tar sands crude arrived in Spain in late May 

In March 2011, the European Commission committed itself to a 70 per cent reduction (from 2008 levels) in carbon emissions from the transportation sector. Part of that commitment is to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of fuels used in vehicles by six per cent by 2020. This requires reducing emissions from the extraction, production, processing and distribution of the fuels themselves. The EU’s Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) obliges suppliers to reduce the lifecycle greenhouse gas intensity of transportation fuel six per cent by 2020 (compared with 2010).

In October 2011, the European Commission proposed detailed rules for implementing the fuel quality law, which included default values for fuels based on their greenhouse gas emissions. Not surprisingly, tar sands-derived fuels are dirtier than most others: with 107 grams of carbon per megajoule, it produced significantly more GHGs than average conventional crude oil (87.5 grams). A recent study by Transport Environment calculates the tar sands designation in the FQD is equivilant to removing emissions of 7 million cars from Europe's roads.

The Canadian and Alberta governments, in collusion with the global oil industry, tout their own funded studies with wildly different numbers, and have been aggressively lobbying the European Union to give tar sands oil a free pass. In January 2010, they launched the Pan-European Oil Sands Advocacy Strategy to inaccurately portray tar sands development as clean, responsible and sustainable.

It's important to understand that tar sands fuel is not being singled out, as Canadian politicians claim. The FQD also provides high-carbon values for fuels like oil shale and coal-to-liquid (which are in fact more greenhouse gas-intensive than tar sands ).

Canada's interference in European climate change policy, as well as its withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, has angered many European politicians and ruined Canada's reputation as an environmentally friendly nation committed to sustainable development. As a result, the world-famous Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres, Germany’s largest and most prestigious research institute, pulled out of a Canadian government-funded research project into sustainable solutions to tar sands pollution, citing fears for its environmental reputation.

Various environmental groups, including the UK Tar Sands Network, Friends of the Earth Europe, Transport Environment, WWF Gernany and Greenpeace Germany, as well as a number of Canadian organizations, have teamed up to thwart Canada's efforts to undermine the EU's new climate policy.

Updates & Resources

Emissions from Canada’s oil-sand crude higher than those from U.S. sources

September 4th 2015

Press Clipping: Gasoline and diesel fuel extracted and refined from Canadian oil sands will release about 20 per cent more carbon into the atmosphere over the oil's lifetime than fuel from conventional crude sources in the Unied States, according to a study by the US Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory; the University of California, Davis (UC Davis); and Stanford University.

Will Canada step up to be a climate leader or continue as a climate laggard?

September 4th 2015

Publication: Will Canada Step Up to be a Climate Leader or Continue as Climate Laggard? A comparison of federal parties’ positions on climate change, lays out the party positions on four main issues: The post-2020 carbon emission reduction targets; The main mechanism for reaching that target; Whether emissions from Canada’s fastest growing source of carbon pollution – the tar sands – will be addressed; Whether parties have committed to assisting poor, developing countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Bill Nye Calls Alberta Oilsands ‘Depressive’

Michelle Butterfield | Huffington Post - September 4th 2015

Press Clipping: Bill Nye (yes, The Science Guy) went on an aerial tour of the Alberta oilsands, and has nothing good to say about what he saw. In an interview with APTN's Brandi Morin, the television show host described the experience as "depressive." I think anybody would say that First Nations have rights that have been abridged or catastrophically curtailed,” Nye told APTN.

Alberta climate change debate sees both sides come out swinging

Bob Weber | Canadian Press - September 4th 2015

Press Clipping: Advocates on both sides of Alberta's climate change debate are mobilizing their grassroots in hopes of influencing the panel that will recommend how the province should address the issue. Greenpeace's newly launched "Get Fresh'' campaign says "The Government of Alberta is creating a fresh plan to address climate change in Alberta and needs to hear your voice!’' "We are trying to get our members and the general public engaged in the consultation process," Greenpeace spokesman Mike Hudema wrote in an email.

Mrs. Universe calls on Aboriginal people to vote out Stephen Harper

Brandi Morin | APTN - September 4th 2015

Press Clipping: Hot on the heels of her Mrs. Universe crown this past weekend, Ashley Burnham is using her new fame to call on Aboriginal people to vote out the Conservative party and its leader Stephen Harper in the upcoming election. “It’s so crucial that we vote a new prime minister in, because we need a new prime minister,” said Burnham, from Enoch Cree Nation in Alberta. “I believe we need to fight for our rights and we need to vote.”

Citi report: slowing global warming would save tens of trillions of dollars


Dana Nuccitelli | The Guardian - September 4th 2015

Press Clipping: Citi Global Perspectives & Solutions (GPS), a division within Citibank (America’s third-largest bank), recently published a report looking at the economic costs and benefits of a low-carbon future. This conclusion soundly refutes the main argument against climate action – that it’s too expensive, with some contrarians even having gone so far as to claim that cutting carbon pollution will create an economic catastrophe. To the contrary, the Citi report finds that these investments will save between $30 million and $50 million.

The oil-sands glut is about to get a lot bigger


Jeremy Van Loon | Bloomberg Business - September 4th 2015

Press Clipping: Northern Alberta’s oil-sands companies have been the single most affected region in the world since the global retreat on investment began last year, according to various analysts. All told, about 800,000 barrels a day of oil sands projects have been delayed or canceled. “The economics have changed and there’s no promise things will come back to the way they were,” said Bob Schulz, a professor at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business. Once the current round of projects is finished, the planning boards are empty, he said.

It’s time to ask your candidates some tough questions


Peter Robinson, CEO | David Suzuki Foundation - September 3rd 2015

Blog Post: We have a big opportunity to find out more about the people who want to represent us in Ottawa and help inform each other about the candidates' positions on important environmental issues. We have some questions that we think candidates in all ridings across Canada should answer. But we need your help because these questions will be most effective if they come from people in the candidates' own ridings.