UK caught in battle over Canadian tar sands

  • Leading scientists in London today to advise UK government on tar sands damage
  • Leak reveals government’s pro-tar sands stance, Norman Baker’s response unconvincing
  • Second Canadian Minister in two weeks visits UK on lobbying mission
  • Comprehensive new tar sands fact-check website launches

Today the UK government is under fire for rejecting an EU proposal to classify oil from tar sands as highly polluting, a label that would deter EU countries from importing it. As revealed in the Guardian yesterday, the UK government supports a controversial methodology for the EU’s Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) legislation which would treat tar sands oil the same as conventional oil, despite it being 23% more polluting.

Transport Minister Norman Baker has hit back at the allegations, but Jess Worth, from the UK Tar Sands Network, said: ‘Norman Baker says he supports a Fuel Quality Directive that takes emissions from tar sands into account. But if this is the case, why does the leaked document clearly state that the options which the government says it ‘prefers’ are the only two that lump tar sands in with all other sources of oil? At the moment it looks like Baker is toeing the oil industry line on this matter. In order to prove otherwise, he needs to clearly state that he accepts that tar sands oil is more polluting than conventional oil and should be labelled accordingly.’

This comes in a week when the UK is receiving visits from both pro-tar sands lobbyists and high-profile scientists warning that the climate impacts of the industry are unacceptable. In the past few days, Canadian Ministers Joe Oliver and Peter Kent have flown to London as part of a pan-European mission to promote the tar sands and lobby against the FQD. Kent was met with a protest by the UK Tar Sands Network and Friends of the Earth Europe in Brussels yesterday.

FOEE and UKTSN Brussels protest

Today, prominent former NASA climate scientist Dr James Hansen, and respected Canadian economist Professor Mark Jaccard are bringing the opposite message: that tar sands have no place in the world’s future energy mix, should be accurately labelled in the FQD as highly-polluting, and should be kept out of Europe. Part of their own pan-European tour, which included addressing the European Parliament on Tuesday, Hansen and Jaccard’s visit to London will include: a meeting with the Department for Transport, which is responsible for the UK’s position on the FQD; giving evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee; and a public lecture by Dr Hansen at the LSE.

Today also sees the launch of a comprehensive new website,, from the growing international Tar Sands Solutions Network – of which UK Tar Sands Network is part. Drawing on peer-reviewed science, the site illustrates how tar sands extraction produces dangerously high carbon emissions, destroys the local environment, poisons water and food sources, and erodes Indigenous rights. It counters the misleading picture being painted by the pro-tar sands Harper regime and its lobbyists in Europe, and provides easy access to detailed sources of data.

Although tar sands extraction is taking place thousands of miles away, the EU’s attempts to pass the FQD have made this a key environmental issue in the UK, especially for the Liberal Democrat transport minister Norman Baker. The legislation has been repeatedly delayed by aggressive lobbying from both the Canadian government and oil industry, including British companies BP and Shell. Oliver and Kent’s visits are the latest of many attempts by the Canadian government to weaken the FQD and remove any references to tar sands being more polluting than conventional fuel. The latest revelations that the Lib Dems appear to have capitulated to this lobbying onslaught have been met by criticism from environmentalists.

Emily Coats, from the UK Tar Sands Network, said, “We are thrilled to see world-renowned scientists crashing the oil peddlers’ transatlantic travelling circus. The UK needs to hear the cold hard truth about the tar sands industry, rather than Canada’s fanciful spin. As James Hansen himself has said, if the tar sands are exploited as planned, it will be ‘game over’ for the climate. Labelling tar sands as a highly polluting fuel would be a long overdue step towards reining in this reckless industry, and the UK government – if it is to retain any semblance of green credibility – should throw its weight behind it.”

2 Responses to “UK caught in battle over Canadian tar sands”

  1. melissa binet-fauvel says:

    The tar sands industry is more than one nail in the coffin for the planet, how can we even think about anything else than doing everything possible to preserve our wonderful world? There is nowhere else to move to. NO to tar sands energy.

  2. Darren Sweet says:

    I’m in Canada, and the damage is worse than you can imagine. Please DO NOT buy tar sands oil!

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