Keep Europe out of the Tar Sands!

Few European citizens are aware that their governments are in the midst of negotiating an ambitious trade deal that could boost Europe’s involvement in the world’s most destructive project, the Canadian tar sands.

The deal, if signed, could allow Tar Sands oil imports into Europe and give dramatic new powers to Europe’s multinational oil companies. It could trample over Indigenous rights and undermine a range of social and environmental legislation on both sides of the Atlantic.

READ THE FULL BRIEFING HERE Keep Europe out of the Tar Sands

Trading with a climate criminal

Canada’s Tar Sands are attracting global concern and criticism. The Tar Sands have become one of the last playgrounds for “Big Oil”, including major European multinationals BP, Total and Shell. The unfolding social and environmental disaster in Alberta demands urgent action. Yet the proposed Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), if completed as planned, threatens to undermine stricter Tar Sands regulation in Canada and stronger climate policies in Europe.

Getting Tar Sands into Europe

Canada has already used the CETA talks as an opportunity to lobby against action in the EU that would keep Tar Sands oil out of Europe. The EU has been negotiating a ‘Fuel Quality Directive’ (FQD), aimed at encouraging the use of low carbon energy products and discouraging the use of high-emission crude oil. With an explicit reference acknowledging Tar Sands as a high-emission fuel, the FQD would have the effect of banning Tar Sands oil from entering Europe. But aggressive Canadian lobbying has convinced two member states, one being the UK, to oppose the inclusion of Tar Sands oil in the FQD.

If you find this as frustrating as we do, sign this Avaaz online petition to encourage the UK government to join the rest of the EU in banning Tar Sands, and read more about our campaign addressed at Norman Baker, the minister in the Department for Transport responsible for the UK’s position.

Giving more power to European oil giants

Perhaps most controversially, CETA includes an ‘investment chapter’ that would grant Canadian and European companies the right to sue governments when environmental policies interfere with their profits. Similar rules in NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) have already been used extensively by US firms to challenge environmental and resource-related policy in Canada. Canadian firms have also used these tools in other bilateral trade deals to attack environmental and mining-related decisions by foreign governments.

Several EU-based oil companies including Shell, BP and Total already have major investments in the Tar Sands and would benefit from the proposed CETA investment rules. Under these rules, any attempt by a Canadian government to regulate the extent or pace of Tar Sands development by EU-based companies would be vulnerable to challenge.

Riding roughshod over Indigenous rights

Despite the many concerns over the scale and pace of Tar Sands developments being expressed by local First Nations, the governments of Alberta and Canada aren’t listening. The area of Tar Sands extraction is under the jurisdiction of treaties that are supposed to ensure that lands of local First Nations should not be taken away from them by massive uncontrolled development that threatens their culture and traditional way of life. But this is exactly what has happened. As a result, several First Nations are currently in direct conflict with both provincial and federal governments over Aboriginal and Treaty rights and title – including through legal challenges to Tar Sands extraction

What should happen now?

The CETA negotiations should be halted immediately, until the following concerns have been addressed:

  1. Ensure public scrutiny and consultation
    The European Commission and EU member states should be transparent with the public on the scope of the CETA negotiations and provide for meaningful input on how or whether to proceed.
  2. Keep Tar Sands oil out of Europe
    The EU should ensure that Europe does not become a major market for Tar Sands oil, by moving ahead with carbon intensity caps in the Fuel Quality Directive, regardless of the Canadian government’s position.
  3. No new rights for corporations
    Under no circumstances should CETA contain investment protections which allow Canadian and European corporations to take governments before unaccountable trade tribunals to settle disputes over public policy behind closed doors. The Canadian and European Union legal systems should handle investment disputes in an open and
    accountable way.
  4. Social and environmental laws come first
    Investment and other economic protections in CETA must take a back seat to climate and environmental considerations. The widest possible space must be given to governments to create progressive environmental, economic and social policy without fear of infringing strict pro-corporate trade rules.
  5. Get European companies out of the Tar Sands
    European oil and gas companies must disinvest from the Tar Sands as part of an immediate global transition from carbon-intensive to renewable sources of energy.
  6. Respect Indigenous rights
    CETA must comply with the standards on Indigenous rights as defined by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Recent Action

  • We have just returned from Brussels where the eighth round of negotiations were taking place.
  • On the first day we organised a protest outside the negotiations themselves. With our friends at Corporate Europe Observatory, we then hosted a Tar Sands Lobbytour’, visiting the offices of those who’ve been lobbying so hard to get tar sands into Europe, including the Canadian government, oil companies and industry associations.
  • We discussed the issues with MEPs in a meeting inside the European Parliament, to highlight the ways in which CETA could affect Europe’s ability to curb environmentally damaging industries like the tar sands.

See all our latest posts about tar sands and the EU.

Event at the European Parliament: ‘Trading Tar Sands: How the Canada-EU free trade agreement will affect social and environmental policy in the EU and Canada’