Canada’s oil from tar sands would be “stigmatised” by EU regulations labelling it as highly polluting, the country’s natural resources minister said on Tuesday. Joe Oliver also said a new study ranking Canada last among industrialised countries for climate action was “name calling” and that the country had an environmental record it was “proud of”.
Oliver spoke at a Canada-Europe energy summit in London, UK, which aimed to promote the “significant commercial opportunities presented by Canada’s emergence as an energy superpower”. Canada is lobbying hard against the European Union’s intention to designate oil from tar sands as 25% more polluting than conventional oil in new rules aimed at cutting carbon emissions from transport, because of the extra energy needed to extract it. It has previously threatened a trade war over the issue.
Oliver said the fuel quality directive (FDQ) was “unscientific, discriminatory and opaque” and “the definition of bad policy”. He cited a new study commissioned by the Canadian government which he claimed reached the same conclusion as him. But the European commission immediately rejected the charges, with the spokesman for climate action commissioner Connie Hedegaard calling the new study “inadequate”.
Oliver said: “The world will need more and more fossil fuels, to drive growth, raise living standards and lift millions out of poverty. Few countries are as well positioned as Canada to meet this growing demand: Canada has the third-largest proven oil reserves in the world—168bn barrels in the oil sands alone.” He said controversial oil pipelines, such as Keystone XL pipeline, were “just the beginning of Canada’s energy infrastructure build out. Over the coming decade, hundreds of major resource projects, worth over $650bn [£403bn], are slated to come on stream.”
But Oliver added: “You can have all the oil and gas in the world, but it’s not much good if you can’t get it to market.” He said: “The FQD could stigmatise the oil from Canada and impact on our access to some markets. It would clearly not be helpful. While the growth in demand is not as high [as in Asia], Europe is the biggest single market in the world right now.”
Oliver was supported by the UK energy minister, Michael Fallon, who also spoke at the summit along with BP chief executive Bob Dudley. Fallon said: “We very much agree with the Canadian government that the emissions data used should accurately reflect the carbon intensity of particular fuel sources.” In 2011, the Guardian revealed secret support at the highest levels of the UK government for Canada’s campaign against the FQD, while British ministers were being lobbied by Shell and BP, which both have major tar sands projects in Alberta.
Canada has reneged on its commitments to cut its own greenhouse emissions under the Kyoto protocol and appears very unlikely to meet even its watered down target for 2020. At the UN climate change summit in Poland on Monday, a German thinktank placed Canada last in an assessment of national climate action among industrialised countries. Among the world’s top 60 polluters, only Iran, Kazahkstan and Saudi Arabia were judged worse.
Oliver called the report findings “curious” and said such “name calling is not accurate or constructive”. Challenged on Canada’s record on climate change, Oliver said: “We have a record that we are proud of,” citing Canada’s 77% of low-carbon electricity, from hydroelectric schemes and nuclear power. He said: “Oil sands, which have become a symbol for some opponents, represents 0.1% of global emissions. We would never go ahead with an energy project unless it was safe for Canadians and the environment.”
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