EU postpones key climate decision on oil sands

EU postpones key climate decision on oil sands

BRUSSELS - Agence France-Presse
EU postpones key climate decision on oil sands

AFP photo

A key EU decision on whether to label oil from Canada's tar sands as highly polluting was postponed to June on Thursday when talks between experts from the 27 countries ended in stalemate.

The issue has whipped up a controversy with oil lobbies as well as with Canada, believed to be sitting on the world's largest reserves thanks to tar sands in Alberta whose extraction environmentalists say will wreck the climate.

Canada threatened to lodge a World Trade Organization complaint against the European Union if experts meeting Thursday in a special committee deemed oil from tar sands as harmful for the environment.

"The committee failed to give an opinion, there was no qualified majority for or against," said European commission spokesman Isaac Valero Ladron.

The question will now go to environment ministers meeting in June, he said.

Committee members had been asked to vote on proposals setting greenhouse gas values for the lifecycle of unconventional fossil fuels, as well as a monitoring system, as part of the bloc's bid to reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2020.

Tar sand oil is estimated to cause 22 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional crude due to the energy needed to extract and refine it.

"Unconventional fuels need to account for their considerably higher emissions through separate values," said the EU's climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard.

"With all the lobbyism against the Commission proposal, I feared that member states' experts would have rejected the proposal in today's experts committee," she said. "I am glad that this was not the case." Earlier this week, environmental group Friends of the Earth Europe released a warning letter from Canada's ambassador to the EU.

It said Ottawa would "explore every avenue at its disposal to defend its interests, including at the World Trade Organization" if the EU directive singles out oil sands crude in a "discriminatory, arbitrary or unscientific way." Friends of the Earth regretted Thursday's stalemate.

"Intense pressure from the Canadian and oil lobbies means we have missed a chance to keep high-polluting sources of fuels, such as tar sands, out of Europe," said campaigner Darek Urbaniak.

Greenpeace EU transport policy adviser Franziska Achterberg said: "Now that the tar sands issue is finally in the hands of publicly accountable ministers, we will see who's pulling the strings in Europe.

"The evidence is clear: tar sands are the world's dirtiest fuels. The decision is even clearer: ministers should stand up to the oil industry and ban them from Europe."