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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Overview:
- 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

Paris agreement signals global shift off fossil fuels and to clean economy

Feature

Merran Smith | Clean Energy Canada - December 14th 2015

Blog Post: As the two-week marathon of climate talks wraps up today in Paris, the release of the final agreement text is already generating the predictable round of mixed reactions. But regardless of what has or has not been accomplished at COP21, there’s reason to be optimistic. That’s because solving climate change has a lot to do with the global clean energy transition that’s already underway. The various actions countries are agreeing to under the Paris Agreement will only accelerate that transition.

Paris: It’s up to us to close the gap between rhetoric and reality

Feature

December 13th 2015

Visual: On December 12th, 2015, world governments meeting in Paris produced a landmark climate agreement. The deal followed two weeks of intense negotiations and waves of global mobilization by the climate movement. While there’s so much this deal leaves undone and so much work still to do, the Paris Agreement does finally send a signal to the world that the age of fossil fuels is over. Now it’s up to us to close the gap between rhetoric and reality. We’re ready.

After Paris: The climate talks end and the movement continues

Feature

Jamie Henn | 350.org - December 12th 2015

Press Clipping: The new climate agreement isn't radical, and it isn’t enough. It's unacceptable that the fossil fuel industry has forced us to wait this long for a global agreement on climate change, especially now that we know companies like Exxon knew their product was fueling climate change 25 years ago. But I still think the Paris agreement gives us a new tool to fight with.

Talking Paris: Whatever happens, we’re already winning

Catherine Abreu | Ecology Action Center - December 11th 2015

Blog Post: I know that whatever the final document says, I and my countless amazing colleagues here in Paris and back home are going to work our butts off to make sure that our home provinces, Canada and the rest of the world do all we need to do to ensure a just transition to a 100 percent renewable energy system by 2050.I know that we are already successful because the transition we seek is well underway and gaining momentum.

NAS study on diluted bitumen spills confirms the need for stricter oversight

Feature

Joshua Axelrod | NRDC - December 9th 2015

Blog Post: The National Academy of Sciences has confirmed that diluted bitumen from Alberta's tar sands differs substantially from other types of oil commonly moved by pipeline across the U.S. These differences can lead to extremely difficult spill response situations where oil that initially floated begins to submerge and finally sink after only a brief period of weathering. On top of this, the NAS also found that our first responders and the various local, state, and federal agencies that respond to oil spills are poorly equipped to deal with spills of diluted bitumen.

WesPac Energy withdraws California oil terminal proposal

Eddie Scher | Forest Ethics - December 9th 2015

Blog Post: On November 16, WesPac Energy formally withdrew its proposed 242,000 barrel-per-day oil storage and transfer facility in Pittsburg, California. The crude oil facility would have included a marine port for oil tankers, more than a dozen oil storage tanks, an oil train offloading terminal, and multiple pipelines to local refineries. “We knew that WesPac was not good for our community and having them as our neighbor would do nothing to make Pittsburg a better place to live” says Kalli Graham, co-founder of the Pittsburg Defense Council."

5 reasons to actually be optimistic about the Paris Climate Conference

John Upton | Grist - December 8th 2015

Press Clipping: Peering closely at the climate talks underway in Paris could be a formula for depression. But, as this year’s historic round of United Nations climate talks enters its crucial closing week with ministers arriving in Paris to take over from their underlings as they try to seal a deal by week’s end, here are five reasons to consider staying upbeat.