I’ve spent much of the last week researching Canadian tar sands and Norman Baker’s alleged attempt to derail a flagship environmental fuel standard being set by the EU. Canadian tar sands are the second largest oil reserve – after Saudi Arabia – in the world. Allowing them to be burned will mean, according to James Hansen of Nasa, ‘game over’ for the climate.
The research has caused me to feel thoroughly emotional and it was in that state that I went to see Norman in his Newhaven surgery last Saturday to ask him what he was up to. He spent 20 minutes with a group of us during which he confirmed the facts but was unable to explain his stance in a way that I could accept, given the MEP briefing papers I’d read. So I continued my research.
In December member nations will vote on an amendment to the Fuel Quality Directive that aims to reduce European transport greenhouse gas emissions and will effectively price tar sands, shale oil and other ‘dirty transport fuels’ out of Europe’s forecourts.
Norman, in his role as Transport Minister, initially supported the amendment as it was in line with Britain’s commitment to CO2 emissions reduction. However, intense and aggressive lobbying by the Canadian government and energy companies, as shown in this comprehensive Friends of the Earth report, has caused the government to backtrack. Now Norman is now not only blocking this important initiative but has also stated he is lobbying his equivalent Ministers of Transport across Europe in a hope to quash the vote in December.
Friends of the Earth and the Cooperative say that Norman’s volte face coincides with a visit by David Cameron to Canada, where our PM opened Canada’s fourth Trade Consulate in the offices of Suncor Energy. Suncor’s website claims it was the first company to develop the tar sands (they call it oil sands). Norman told me when we met that he’s had no direct contact with David Cameron or the Canadian government on this issue.
Although the amendment is supported by all the Lib Dem European MPs and many others, both Norman and the Canadian energy company lobbyists say it is discriminatory. It doesn’t include other kinds of fossil fuel which, because of the energy, pollutants and environmental ravage required to get them to the pump, are deemed to be more greenhouse gas intensive. Norman’s department instead proposes a new measurement methodology. The Cooperative and other NGOs say that this ‘discrimination’ tactic is untrue: other kinds of heavy fuels such as shale oil are already included and more can be included as research is finalized. They say this new methodology proposal is a ‘wrecking’ tactic that could set the initiative back years.
I think part of my strong emotional response to this has been because I’ve fully realized that we’re not going to make a calm transition to renewable energy now that we have reached peak oil. Instead, there is a powerful, dirty lobby of energy corporations and government which, now that unconventional sources of energy are now economically viable, is gearing up for a race to the bottom in the name of energy security. Tar sands, gas shale through fracking, underground coal gasification: there is plentiful dirty fuel - Extreme Energy as some are now calling it - out there that will kill our climate many times over. We need to all wake up to this issue, just as we are waking up to the role of the bankers in wrecking our economy.
The front page of yesterday’s Independent wrote of a Cabinet split as to whether to prioritise economic recovery or the environment. And while I realise that Norman’s under enormous pressure to toe the party line, I know he’s a man of conscience and trust that he will, ultimately, do the right thing.
Photo courtesy of the Pembina Institute. More here.