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February 15 2014


November 28 2011


Major rifts emerge on first day of UN talks

The United Nations climate change summit in Durban, South Africa, opened in disarray on Monday with a major rift emerging between some of the world's biggest polluters.
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Negotiating positions of major economies at Durban talks

The United Nations climate change summit in Durban, South Africa, opened in disarray on Monday with a major rift emerging between some of the world's biggest polluters.

Negotiating positions of major economies at Durban talks

The United Nations climate change summit in Durban, South Africa, opened in disarray on Monday with a major rift emerging between some of the world's biggest polluters.

October 12 2011


US Denial versus European and Asian Sustainable Growth

The US continues to bury their head in the sand about climate changeWhile much of the rest of the world seems to see the dangers of climate change, many Americans appear to be woefully oblivious. Embracing a green, low-carbon economy is a sustainable way of dealing with the problems of resource depletion, economic uncertainty and climate change.

Europeans understand the severity of the threat posed by climate change far better than Americans. An October 2011, Eurobarometer poll found that Europeans consider global warming to be one of the world’s most serious problems. According to this poll, 68% of Europeans rate climate change as a “very serious” problem. One-fifth of Europeans indicated that climate change is the single most serious problem. Only poverty is considered a more serious problem than climate change, followed by the current economic crisis. (In fact the poor are the ones who will be most affected by climate change and the overwhelming costs of climate change make it a pressing economic issue).

As reviewed in an Eco-Business article, the Green Growth Forum, held in Ha Noi on October 4, 2011, was part of an Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) initiative where 180 European and Asian delegates shared their experiences on incorporating green growth models.Speaking at the forum, the Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Vu Van Ninh said that green growth not only served as a vehicle to foster global economic growth and recovery, but also as a tool to implement sustainable development based on social and environmental protection.

Miyon Lee, director general of the International Co-operation Team of the Presidential Committee on Green Growth in South Korea, said that all countries had a responsibility to develop green growth policies before it is too late.

The Eurozone has their green priorities in order, and increasingly, so does Asia, but America remains woefully behind in sustainability. European and Asian nations understand that economic concerns do not trump environmental concerns. However, in America, economic growth takes precedence over climate change. Climate change consistently ranks near the bottom on the list of Americans’ concerns. As stated in Roger Pielke Jr.’s “Iron Law” of climate policy, “When policies on emissions reductions collide with policies focused on economic growth, economic growth will win out every time.”

If we do not change our ways, economic growth will evaporate, taking jobs with it. Yet somehow, a small group of corporate interests have managed to introduce an element of doubt into the debate causing many Americans to buy into misinformation rather than subscribe to the scientific evidence. This is a travesty, not just of science, but of common sense.

Economic growth is not incompatible with managing climate change. As stated in a Treehugger article, “Europeans understand this better than Americans, and have managed to not only recognize the threat, but to reduce emissions while growing their economy.”

All around the world, people are beginning to develop national and regional strategies to minimize their impact on the earth. In the U.S., corporate interests beholden to the old energy economy have successfully resisted efforts to save the economy, the planet and its inhabitants.

If senior Asian and European officials can work on ways of transitioning economies from a ‘grow first, clean up later’ approach toward a greener development path, why can’t America?

It is a miscarriage of reason that in the U.S., short term economic issues are being used to justify ongoing environmental genocide.


Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

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August 05 2011


U.N. Report On Niger Delta Calls For Billion Dollar Shell Oil Spill Clean-Up Fund

A new United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report [pdf] discussing the environmental destruction in the Ogoniland region of the Niger Delta wetlands calls out Shell, and says that the contamination warrants emergency action and an initial $1 billion clean-up fund to pay for a sweeping environmental restoration which may take 30 years to complete.

According to the UNEP, this is the most detailed scientific study to date on any part of the Niger Delta. The survey team spent 14 months completing the study which involved site visits to more than 200 locations, a survey of 122 km of pipeline, reviews of more than 5,000 medical records and public meetings with more than 23,000 locals.

The Ogoniland region of the Niger Delta is filled with creeks, swamps, waterways and huge reserves of oil which have enabled Nigeria to become the world’s eighth largest oil exporter. Decades of exploitation by national and international corporations like Shell, however, have destroyed the region’s land and freshwater supplies, and have left residents in poverty.

In one community in western Ogoniland, at Nisisioken Ogale, residents are drinking water contaminated with benzene (a carcinogen) at levels over 900 times above World Health Organization guidelines. In at least 10 out of the 15 sites with poisoned water which Shell subsidiaries said had been cleaned, the public health risk is still deemed to be serious.

A full environmental restoration of contaminated drinking water, land, creeks and damaged ecosystems [pdf] “could prove to be the world’s most wide-ranging and long term oil clean-up exercise ever undertaken.”

Achim Steiner, U.N. Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, stated:

“The oil industry has been a key sector of the Nigerian economy for over 50 years, but many Nigerians have paid a high price, as this assessment underlines.”

“It is UNEP’s hope that the findings can break the decades of deadlock in the region and provide the foundation upon which trust can be built and action undertaken to remedy the multiple health and sustainable development issues facing people in Ogoniland. In addition it offers a blueprint for how the oil industry—and public regulatory authorities-- might operate more responsibly in Africa and beyond at a time of increasing production and exploration across many parts of the Continent.”

Even though Shell has not operated in the Ogoniland since 1993, the report identifies the lackluster stewardship of Shell and its subsidiaries stating:

Control and maintenance of oilfield infrastructure in Ogoniland has been and remains inadequate: the Shell Petroleum Development Company’s own procedures have not been applied, creating public health and safety issues.

The oil giant was forced to leave the region after writer Ken Saro-Wiwa (hung by the government in 1995) led a campaign against the corporation for its environmentally destructive practices. The pipelines and other infrastructure, however, remain in place and continue to cause spills and suffer from sabotage attacks.

Despite its vast oil resources, the Niger Delta region suffers from violence, severe poverty and devastation from oil spills caused by faulty infrastructure, theft and sabotage.

The UNEP findings also support the claims of Bodo fishing communities in the Ogoniland region who are taking Shell to court in Britain for poisoning their waters and ruining their livelihoods. Shell officials have agreed to take responsibility for two spills in 2008 and 2009. 

Taking responsibility for spills is out of the ordinary for Shell, which has frequently avoided liability by blaming sabotage and maintaining that under Nigerian law, compensation is not paid when damages are caused by sabotage. Such claims led Friends of the Earth and Amnesty International to submit a joint claim to Dutch officials at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, criticizing Shell for “nontransparent, inconsistent and misleading figures” by claiming that some 98 percent of spills are caused by sabotage [Shell countered saying the figure was more like 70 percent].

The director of Friends of the Earth Nigeria and Chair of Friends of the Earth International, Nnimmo Bassey, stated earlier this year that:

"Several studies have placed the bulk of the blame for oil spills in the Niger Delta on the doorsteps of the oil companies, particularly Shell."

The new report combined with the Bodo lawsuit means that Shell, national oil companies and other oil prospectors are now on notice to clean up their operations or face the consequences.

Download the executive summary [EN - pdf] and/or full UNEP Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland report [pdf].

Photo Credit: flickr

July 09 2011


A Pan-European Approach To Banning Unconventional Gas?

A German member in the European parliament (MEP) is proposing a straightforward way to prevent (or outlaw) exploration and drilling for unconventional gas in the European Union (EU). His plan, bypass national strife and instead build consensus for a European-wide ban.

Jo Leinen, chair of the committee on the environment, public health and food safety, is considered one of the most influential MEP’s. He recently told The Guardian that he wants to work on a new energy quality directive that is expected to focus on penalizing and/or banning the extraction, import and use of fuels which are environmentally destructive – namely unconventional gas and even tar sands oil.

While some consider unconventional gas as a clean burning source of fuel, each day seems to bring more and more bad news about its damaging health and environmental effects.

What’s more, the International Energy Agency has found that gas reliance would be disastrous for fighting climate change. This is supported by recent findings from Cornell University which show that over a 20-year period, unconventional gas emissions are at least 20% greater than coal, and maybe as high as 50%.

At the national level, efforts to regulate the unconventional gas industry in Europe have been a mix of success and failure.

France just banned hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking), passing both the lower and upper houses of the French National Assembly. While this is a success, a full ban on unconventional gas was viewed as too prohibitive by the governing UMP party and subsequently dropped from consideration before it ever came to a vote.

In Britain, the debate around unconventional gas rages on. Huw Irranca-Davies, the Labour party’s shadow energy minister recently wrote to energy minister Charles Hendry urging him to temporarily ban gas drilling and fracking, at least until the technology and its impacts can be studied [pdf] further.

At the moment, drilling supporters in parliament outnumber detractors. The parliamentary committee on energy and climate change just rejected any possibility of a moratorium on unconventional gas. The committee stated: "We conclude that, on balance, a moratorium in the UK is not justified or necessary at present." Tax breaks to encourage drilling are still being considered.

Unfortunately, in other countries like Poland, the unconventional gas “barometer of Europe,” drilling is advancing at an “unprecedented speed.” At present, Polish leaders are touting unconventional gas as a pan-European project.

Jesse Scott, program leader with E3G, a British NGO promoting sustainable development, said the portrayal of unconventional gas as the "European solution" is a battle yet to be won.

This fight will soon be waged in Germany, where diversifying sources of energy has become especially important, since parliamentarians recently voted to end the use of nuclear energy by 2022. Without nuclear, Germany will rely more and more on alternative energy options like hydropower, wind and solar, which it already wants to grow to at least 35% by 2020.

With many countries in Europe either reluctant to ban unconventional gas drilling or ready to push ahead with it - and with unconventional gas drillers trying to label their fossil fuel as a green energy source - Leinen’s proposed energy directive faces an uphill struggle.  But it may encounter success at the European level where MEPs previously passed Europe’s “20-20-20” targets (20% less carbon emissions and 20% of energy production from renewables by 2020).

Photo Credit: The Economist

July 04 2011


France Becomes First Country To Ban Fracking; Gas Drilling Still A Go

In a major setback for the oil and gas industry, the French Senate last week voted 176 to 151 to ban hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking), the controversial gas industry drilling method facing scrutiny the world over due to water contamination and other concerns. Once the legislation receives presidential approval, France will be the first country to permanently outlaw fracking.

The ban on fracking is a major victory for the French public, wary of the health, safety and water contamination impacts that unconventional gas drilling would have on communities. Still, with up to five billion cubic metres of unconventional gas spread across southern France, the drilling drama is likely far from settled.

The majority of the Senators voting in favour of the ban on Thursday come from President Nicholas Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party. On the other side, many of the Senators voting against the law, which passed a similar lower house vote in May, decry it for not going far enough.

The legislation to ban fracking was originally intended to cover all forms of unconventional gas drilling, but that effort was seen by many UMP parliamentarians as too restrictive.

The French ban means that companies granted drilling permits last March will have two months to prove that they are not using fracking techniques. U.S. gas company Scheupbach Energy received two licenses and France's Total was given the other. Their permits will be revoked if they wish to frack, and they could face fines and prison sentences for any fracking attempts.

Opponents of the law continue to voice concerns that only a blanket ban on all forms of unconventional drilling will truly protect public health, water supplies and the environment. These parliamentarians claim that gas companies could theoretically continue to frack wells due to provisions allowing for ‘drilling for scientific research purposes.’ Ecologist senator Jean Desessard, like many opposition politicians, also feels that the fracking-specific ban means that those eager to drill will change the name of their gas extraction technique, or use another drilling method which might prove equally if not more damaging.

This is a real concern since the text of the law does not properly define fracking. Although a challenge has already been prepared, for now, opposition parliamentarians will not appeal to the Constitutional Court for a ruling on the matter.

From the gas industry’s perspective, the law is a major setback. The Union Francaise des Industries Petrolieres, which represents Total and other oil and gas interests, suggests that “the law will prevent an evaluation of shale hydrocarbon resources and their impact on the French economy.” There is also some concern that drillers could challenge the law in court. Last month, French Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said that a challenge of some sort was likely. However, during the Senate debate, she said “financial and legal risks have been limited.”

The fracking ban legislation now heads to President Sarkozy’s desk for signing.

July 02 2011


Proof that the Government is tilting at windmills

The policy on which our national energy strategy is now centred is a ludicrously expensive, self-defeating joke, says Christopher Booker.

June 11 2011


June 02 2011


UK Opposed to Europe’s Tar Sands Import Ban

While most European countries are working on a proposal that would effectively ban the use of Canadian tar sands in the European Union, the United Kingdom has made it clear that they will not support any measure to reduce their reliance on tar sands. Britain joins the Netherlands as one of only two countries that want to continue to have the option to use oil derived from Canadian tar sands.

The EU is working to produce a new “fuel directive” this year that would reduce the amount of emissions acceptable from fuels used for transportation. The directive would require a 6% reduction in the amount of emissions from vehicle fuel over the next 9 years. Because the emissions from tar sands run about 23% higher than those from traditional fossil fuels, this would mean that their use in the EU would be effectively prohibited.
From The Independent:

To date, the UK and the Netherlands, two nations with the strongest connections to oil giants BP and Shell, are the only two states wishing to remove reference to tar sands from the draft proposal, according to the coalition of green groups working on the directive.

Canada's tar sands contain the world's largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia, but extracting the oil can release up to three times more greenhouse gases.

It is estimated the sands hold about 175 billion barrels of recoverable oil, but the trapped crude is in such thick form that large amounts of energy and water are needed to refine it. The development of Canada's tar sands has led to a push by oil companies to set up similar ventures in Russia and Congo.

European leaders and activists are afraid that if countries like Britain and the Netherlands continue to court tar sands imports from Canada, their entire climate initiative will fail.

Emma Pullman pointed out recently that the Canadian government has been actively, and secretly, working with EU leaders to help push the use of tar sands. From her report:

The Canadian government has carried out a secret plan to boost investment and keep world markets open for Alberta's filthy tar sands oil. Their strategies include collaboration with major oily allies to aggressively undermine European environmental measures.

In December 2009, the federal government "oil sands advocacy strategy" was launched out of fear that growing opposition could curb European investment in the industry and that the EU restrictions on tar sands imports could be mimicked globally.

While very little of Alberta's tar sands oil is actually exported to Europe (the lion's share goes to the U.S.), entrenched tar sands defenders in Canadian government and the oil companies who stand to profit from it were concerned that European efforts to favor low-carbon fuel sources could influence other countries seeking ways to reduce global warming pollution.

Check out DeSmogBlog's extensive coverage of the tar sands and our fact sheet about the dangers of this dirty energy source.

May 27 2011


Documents Reveal Canada's Secret 'Oil Sands Team' in Europe

DeSmog has helped to document the Canadian government's extensive efforts in Europe to kill climate change legislation targeting the Alberta tar sands. In a major development today, official documents obtained though an Access to Information request by the Dominion newspaper expose a nefarious “pan-European oil sands advocacy strategy” that is much more coordinated than previously understood. 

According to Martin Lukacs at the Dominion Paper, the Canadian government has carried out a secret plan to boost investment and keep world markets open for Alberta's filthy tar sands oil. Their strategies include collaboration with major oily allies to aggressively undermine European environmental measures.<!--break-->

In December 2009, the federal government “pan-European oil sands advocacy strategy" was launched out of fear that growing opposition could curb European investment in the industry and that the EU restrictions on tar sands imports could be mimicked globally.

While very little of Alberta's tar sands oil is actually exported to Europe (the lion's share goes to the U.S.), entrenched tar sands defenders in Canadian government and the oil companies who stand to profit from it were concerned that European efforts to favor low-carbon fuel sources could influence other countries seeking ways to reduce global warming pollution.

Thus the government worked diligently, and often hand-in-hand with industry, to oppose the European Fuel Quality Directive.

Interestingly, the Team was launched in December 2009 around the time of the United Nations climate negotiations in Copenhagen. Perhaps, rather than mending Canada's damaged reputation, the government figured it could lobby it away.  

According to one of the documents obtained, “Oil sands are posing a growing reputational problem [in Europe], with the oil sands defining the Canadian brand,” The document goes on to argue that, “Canada’s reputation as a clean, reliable source of energy may be put at risk.”

It appears that the Canadian government sees clean fuel legislation as more of a PR problem to be finessed than as as legitimate environmental problem to be addressed. 

The “pan-European oil sands advocacy strategy" is run by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAIT) and involves eight foreign missions who work alongside Natural Resources, Environment Canada and the Alberta government.

The Team routinely monitors green groups, responds to negative media coverage, and assists Canadian policymakers to lobby European parliamentarians and organize trips to Alberta. They've also worked to “enhance cooperation” with oil companies, and coordinated regular meetings between top European oil executives and Albertan and federal ministers, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The diplomatic campaign is much more coordinated than previously understood. It involves the complicity at the highest level of government and oil company executives, from secret meetings to big investments in the tar sands. It's a story so gruesome, it will make your head spin.

Head over to the Dominion Paper and The Tyee to read more. 

Reposted by02mydafsoup-01 02mydafsoup-01

May 25 2011


French Vote To Ban Fracking: The End Of The Story Or Just The Beginning?

Earlier this month, members of the French national assembly voted to ban hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) by an overwhelming 287 to 186. While the vote had significant support across party lines, a great deal of skepticism remains about whether or not the unconventional gas drilling ban goes far enough and if it will actually stop drillers from fracking.

Between 2008 and 2010, the French government granted numerous exploration permits to companies claiming that drilling for unconventional gas trapped in shale rock offered a silver bullet solution to growing economic and climate change pollution challenges. But more recently the public learned about several threats posed by unconventional gas drilling, including impacts on public health, drinking water supplies, and a much larger pollution footprint than previously assumed. As a result, governments around the world are changing course and banning unconventional gas fracking.<!--break-->

This seemed to be the direction in France too when, earlier this year, the government commissioned a report to critically examine the economic, environmental and social impacts of exploiting unconventional gas. In mid-April, Prime Minister Francois Fillon even stated that fracking for unconventional gas is risky and that he supported rescinding the drilling permits and wanted a ban.

Just days later, however, on April 21st, a preliminary version of the report [pdf] was submitted to Ecology Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet and Industry Minister Eric Besson and surprisingly, it highlighted the benefits from fracking. The pre-report warned that a ban would be detrimental to the economy and that unconventional gas should be pursued under specific conditions.

Now, concerned French citizens, environmentalists and opposition party politicians are claiming that dirty energy lobbyists are influencing the country’s drilling regulations. As one example, they point to the rosy outlook of the pre-report, which was heavily edited.

France Nature Environnement describes the report as whitewash, stating:

“…if after submitting evidence to the inter ministerial task-force, we anticipated a more favourable report on the exploitation of shale gas we did not at all expect such a caricature of a report, one which almost without any qualification, appears interested in just one outcome — to make shale gas drilling acceptable to the French.”

On the legislative side, opposition parties continue to argue that the anti-fracking law is too watered down and falls short because of an amendment providing a major loophole which may still allow for fracking. Gas companies that were granted permits have two months to explain how they will drill for unconventional gas, and the now-flawed legislation theoretically would allow companies to simply not describe their drilling technique as fracking, therefore holding on to their permits. In other words, if they simply stop talking about fracking and describe the drilling process more vaguely, they could go on about their business as usual.

Richard Paul-Jones of Schiste Happens, sums up the issues well noting that “if the companies come up with any method other than hydraulic fracturing, they will retain their licenses without further inquiry.”

The Connexion put it more clearly:

“The text that is being debated today with a vote tomorrow now gives licensees two months to detail the processes they intend to use and, while hydraulic fracturing will not be permitted, if this is not mentioned in the companies’ submissions then the permits will be approved.”

In fact, prior to voting to support the legislation, many believed that a united opposition would vote against the ban because it did not go far enough.

The French centre-left has its own fracking ban ready for debate. For now they have removed their bill but will bring it up again if they see the present legislation further watered down and think fracking is back on the table. The existing UMP bill to ban fracking next moves to the Senate in June.

In the meantime, parliamentarians from all parties have the chance to review the bill as it is written and to consider the entirety of its implications. France would do well to follow the proposed ban in New Jersey, the moratorium in Maryland, New York's temporary ban, and others. France should also thoroughly study the condemnations fracking has received in Québec and the embarrassment that government has received for its poor management of unconventional gas reserves.

Reposted by02mydafsoup-01 02mydafsoup-01

April 21 2011


European Fracking Lobby Group Caught Peddling Bogus Report

You know, it's a hard life being a multinational oil executive. Billion dollar profits to reap, climate deniers to fund, indigenous and impacted community rights to trample all over. So I thought I'd help them out with some strategic planning advice. Here's my quick guide on how to lobby based on bogus information, in three easy steps:

Step 1. Find a report that's related (at least somewhat) to the issue you want to lobby on.

Step 2. Rewrite it completely, twisting up all the facts and drawing the opposite conclusion. Publish.

Step 3. Wine and dine all of your government friends while exhalting that you're "just trying to help them" by providing them with some "useful analysis" that will save them money.

Sounds far fetched, doesn't it?

It's not.

The report in question - the original, that is - is called Roadmap 2050. It was published by the European Climate Foundation, a green policy analysis think-tank, and looks in depth at energy options, investments, and policies needed in order to meet Europe's goals of reducing carbon emissions 80% by 2050. They found that rapid investment in renewable energy was by far the best means of meeting Europe's energy needs and simultaneously cutting greenhouse gas emissions. No real surprise there, but important work nevertheless.

Wanting to ensure their analysis stood up to scrutiny, and could be built upon easily by governments wanting to implement the recommendations, ECF published all of the components of the report, including the facts, figures, and statistics, under an open source "creative commons" license.

What it seems the European Climate Foundation didn't realise at the time was that one of the contributors they'd commissioned to work on the technical and economic analysis in the report, McKinsey and Company, was soon to have another client.

Enter the European Gas Advocacy Forum (EGAF), an industry lobby group representing Statoil, Centrica, Eni, E.ON Ruhrgas, Gazprom, GdF Suez, Qatar Petroleum and Shell. (I'd link to the EGAF but they don't seem to have a website, only a trail of press releases and mentions here and there.)

EGAF is heavily involved in lobbying to promote unconventional gas fracking, the new front in Big Oil's desperate quest to come up with ever more insane ways to extract fossil fuels out of the ground as conventional supplies dwindle. Fracking involves pumping a toxic mix of chemicals under pressure down into shale deposits, in order to literally break up the rock, releasing the gas trapped within. The process is far from benign. A recent report from Cornell concludes that once methane leaks released by the fracking process are taken into account, shale gas could be even worse for the climate than coal over the lifetime of any new power plants built to burn it, and the ongoing saga of impacts on local communities from fracking continued earlier today in Pensylvania when a well blowout caused a major spill of toxic fracking fluid into the environment. The spill has not yet been contained.

European Gas Advocacy Forum, the industry group, commissioned McKinsey and Company to take the open-sourced analysis from the European Climate Forum and re-work it. By distorting both the economic analysis, and failing to account for the true emissions impacts of unconventional gas, they generated a bogus claim that the EU could meet its emissions targets and save 900 billion Euros by 2050 by investing not in renewables, but instead in new gas fired power stations.

EGAF then proceeded to lobby extensively based on their new version of the report. According to The Guardian, industry insiders say it gets pulled out by the gas companies at every meeting, and others are incensed at the EGAF's actions. "The way in which this has been distorted by the gas industry is unbelievable," said one insider.

The European Climate Foundation has been quick to distance itself from the abuse of its work. "We in no way endorse this report. Heavy dependency on gas, as this report seems to suggest, is not a viable alternative to a low-carbon generation network with low dependence on fossil fuels in terms of cost, energy security, or climate resilience."

Isn't it about time Big Oil started investing in the clean energy future we need rather than doctoring reports and attempting to lobby their way to more dirty energy profits?

Photo of gas flaring by todbaker (Flickr)


March 31 2011


European Union Pushing Back on Canada's Taxpayer Funded Tar Sands Lobbying

Canada does not - as yet - export much tar sands oil to Europe. So why, you might ask, have the Canadian and Alberta governments been working overtime using tax dollars to fund a massive misinformation and lobbying campaign on the other side of the Atlantic?

There's a clue in this press release from January announcing Alberta Energy Minister Ron Liepert's $40,000 lobbying jaunts to the US and Europe: "The European Union is not currently a major market for Alberta’s oil sands products, but any legislation or tariffs adopted by the union’s government can serve as a model for individual nations around the world. We want to continue to share our story with the legislators so they have the facts about our clean energy strategies"

(I'll let the "clean energy strategies" rubbish slide for now.)

It's not about protecting existing markets. At the moment the vast majority of exported tar sands oil goes to the US. For the most part, it's not even about securing a regulatory environment in Europe that protects future potential markets (although that is no doubt a contributing factor). I'll tell you why the Canadian and Albertan governments are so worried that they've been applying pressure on European legislators to a degree at least one EU parliamentarian has declared "unacceptable".

It's about precedent. And they're scared.


The EU is on the verge of what will effectively amount to a ban on tar sands oil. This will have very little impact on Europe's oil supplies, but will set a global precedent, sending a huge message to the rest of the world that Canada's tar sands are producing a product that is too dirty, unethical, unwanted, and unneeded. This is what Suncor, BP, TransCanada, and their extremely close friends in the Canadian government are most concerned about.

Here's what Liepert had to say when asked by the Globe and Mail to comment on the EU developments:

"We think it’s important to look at these things scientifically and comprehensively"

Actually I couldn't agree more.

Scientific research published last month backs up the EU's proposal that tar sands oil be assigned an emissions value of 107 grams per megajoule, a measure of how much global warming gas is produced for each unit of energy you get when the fuel is burned. That's far greater than conventional crude oil's 87 grams per megajoule.

The reason for this difference is no secret. Huge amounts of heat are needed to extract bitumen from the sand, increasing the total emissions from tar sands oil far beyond just what's released when the refined fuel is eventually burned. At issue is whether or not the EU's Fuel Quality Directive will recognise this, and specify appropriately higher emissions figures for tar sands oil than conventional crude.

The EU is trying to base their decision on science. Canada is trying to arm-twist them into basing it on what's most politically expedient for the billion dollar companies strip-mining Alberta.

It was looking like Canada's bullying and misinformation campaign on behalf of the tar sands mega-corporations might be working until last week when the EU's Climate Change Commissioner Connie Hedegaard announced her intention to push ahead with targeting tar sands and shale oil as high-carbon fuels.

The directive wouldn't actually prohibit countries from importing tar sands oil, but by simply labeling it accurately as a high-carbon fuel, EU commitments to reduce emissions would effectively make it economically unviable to import, shutting the tar sands out of European markets.

But remember this was never primarily about European markets. The real reason for Canada's desperate lobbying efforts is much closer to home.

Pressure is mounting on US legislators to put in place similar low-carbon fuel regulations, and opposition to TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would pump tar sands oil to Texas refineries and the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline that would take tar sands crude west to Asian markets continues to grow.

A precendent set now by the European Union would make it far more politically feasible for the United States to follow suit, and might just be enough to tip the balance permanently against Canada's dirty tar sands oil.

Image: UK Tar Sands Network

February 28 2011


Once and For All: Climate Denial is Not Postmodern

If our goal is to do something about the ever-growing problem of climate change denial, I believe we must first understand it—its forms, its motivations, its arguments.

That's why I recoil every time I hear the argument—made over the weekend in the New York Times magazine by Judith Warner—that science denial used to be a left wing thing, centered on the so-called “postmodernists” of academia, but now things have flipped. Now it’s located on the right—witness climate denial. Or as Warner puts it:

That taking on the scientific establishment has become a favored activity of the right is quite a turnabout. After all, questioning accepted fact, revealing the myths and politics behind established certainties, is a tactic straight out of the left-wing playbook. In the 1960s and 1970s, the push back against scientific authority brought us the patients’ rights movement and was a key component of women’s rights activism. That questioning of authority veered in a more radical direction in the academy in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when left-wing scholars doing “science studies” increasingly began taking on the very idea of scientific truth.

This analysis is so wrong that one barely knows how to begin.<!--break-->

First, the idea that conservatives would be strongly influenced by the abstruse arguments and wordplay of left wing academia doesn't make any sense. Do we not recall that starting in the 1970s, conservatives created an armada of ideological think tanks—including many think tanks that now dispute climate change—precisely so as to create their own echo chamber of “expertise” outside of academia? To them, 1990s postmodernism would be the quintessential example of effete academic uselessness.

But that's not even the biggest objection to Warner's line of thinking. The biggest objection is that climate change deniers do not look, behave, or sound postmodern in any meaningful sense of the term.

As Warner herself recognizes, if postmodernism has any central theme (in relation to science) it is problematizing the idea that there is something called scientific “truth” that can be objectively discerned. The insights of “science studies” were thus deployed in order to show that scientists are quite subjective in how they do things, frequently engaging in personal battles and clinging to ideas that they should let go; that broader cultural and scientific trends color allegedly objective scientific discoveries (is it a coincidence that the phrase “survival of the fittest” was coined at a time of ruthless capitalism and imperialism in the British empire?); that scientists sometimes ignore or sneer at local or indigenous forms of knowledge that actually offer key insights about the way the world works (as in the story of the Cumbrian sheep farmers following Chernobyl); and so forth.

These are all valid insights. The trouble is that some more radical left wing thinkers appeared (for it was always hard to tell how much of it was mere scholarly flirtation and provocation) to take them an extreme, suggesting that science might not really be our road to truth. But that doesn't follow at all from the insights of science studies. It’s one thing to ask that we more realistically understand how scientists behave, and note some of their shortcomings; it’s something else again to say that science isn’t the best method, in the long term, for figuring out how the world works. Of course it is—despite individual scientists’ shortcomings.

In any event, the idea that science is the embodiment of "truth" is something with which climate deniers blithely agree. They think that they are right and that the scientific consensus about global warming is wrong--objectively. They’re not out there questioning whether science is the best way of getting at the truth; they’re out there talking as though their scientists know the truth.

Can you picture James Inhofe citing Derrida or Foucault? The very idea is comical.

Frankly, if climate deniers were more conversant with science studies, I have to believe that they would feel a lot less sure of themselves—and they would never have been able to make such a big fuss about “ClimateGate.” “ClimateGate” is the quintessential example of scientists showing, through their private emails, that they’re people too; that they have passions and feelings, that they say things they shouldn’t and make mistakes. No shock at all to people in “science studies,” who can tell you the same thing about, say, the private writings of Isaac Newton.

Much of the reaction to “ClimateGate,” on the part of both science deniers and the general public, was characterized by a naïve view of science which expects researchers to be rigorously objective at all times—almost like robots. You’re only likely to be shocked to find scientists behaving like ordinary people in their emails if you’ve been wrongly led to think they’re somehow not like ordinary people.  

Similarly, I don't think climate change deniers would be so willing to discard a global scientific consensus, based on the views of a handful of scientists who disagree with it, if they actually paid attention to science studies. For many of these dissenting "skeptic" scientists of course have agendas of their own, rivalries with scientists in the "mainstream," and so on. What on earth makes them so trustworthy, so objective?

If anything, the insights of science studies, properly applied, ought to make us more confident than ever that we should trust modern climate science. After all, do you know how hard it is to achieve a global scientific consensus when every scientist can gain fame and fortune by upsetting or undermining it--and when scientists very much desire fame and career advancement?

If anything, climate change deniers are pretty oblivious to what we've learned from science studies--which is yet another reason to be very skeptical of what they're saying.

February 21 2011


Canada Bullying The European Union Over Tar Sands, Threatening To Scuttle Trade Agreement

Canada is using Alberta’s dirty tar sands as an excuse to bully the European Union (EU) into watering down its climate change policies, leaving the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) in serious doubt.

This brewing transatlantic dispute over the tar sands stems from the likelihood that the EU could officially block the sale of Alberta oil in Europe given its high carbon content. 

The European Commission is reportedly “readying its defenses for a legal fight with Canada.”
According to Reuters:

Last year, the EU appeared to be backing down on tar sands, but sources say negotiators for the 27-member bloc are becoming bolder as their scientific evidence becomes more robust.

“We are saying 'be careful', because Canada will not hesitate to take us to the WTO, so we have to have something rock-solid,” said an EU official.

Briefing notes prepared for EU Climate Change Commissioner Connie Hedegaard discussing European climate change goals and the CETA attest to Canada’s firm opposition to any European tar sands definition which negatively characterizes Alberta’s so-called ‘ethical oil’:

“Canada has been lobbying the Commission and member states intensively to avoid a separate default value for fuel derived from tar sands.”

Although Europe receives very little of Alberta’s dirty oil at present, Greenpeace reports that exports are on the rise [pdf] (and particularly via US ports which may soon receive much more dirty oil from the Keystone XL project).

What worries European leaders is the mounting body of evidence which shows that tar sands oil has a carbon footprint somewhere between 23% [pdf] and 82% [pdf] higher than regular dirty European and US oil.

A deepening reliance on dirty energy sources also contradicts progressive EU policies, mainly: efforts to reduce carbon emissions by 20-30% below 1990 levels by 2020; and a new Fuel Quality Directive [pdf] which is being updated to require a reduction in the carbon content of transport fuels by 6% below 2010 levels by 2020. Additionally, recently released European Commission data shows that aggressive climate change objectives are achievable, ‘cost effective’ and will promote economic growth across Europe.

EU leaders like Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard and Britain’s Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne are speaking out for immediate and significant action to reduce global warming pollution.

There are many groups that oppose the CETA, and probably even more groups that oppose the tar sands. The fact that Canadian negotiators are prepared to cancel negotiations over the Alberta tar sands shows that dirty energy lobbying efforts are not effective and that strong climate change policies are winning out in Europe. With mounting evidence showing that the tar sands are not an ethical project and that drilling for this oil is extremely destructive to the environment and climate, European leaders should both feel emboldened to stand up to fossil fuel lobby threats and to increase their commitments towards stronger carbon reduction goals.

February 14 2011


The Facts Are In, The Tar Sands Are Dirty, But Industry Spin Campaign Continues

Last year, as part of its review of the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline planned to deliver dirty tar sands oil from Alberta to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that the carbon emissions from Canadian oil sands crude would be approximately 82% greater than average US crude.
Tar sands oil producers, fossil fuel advocates and Canadian and Alberta politicians were understandably worried about the reputation of their dirty oil. To battle these new facts, these groups have actively engaged in a campaign to greenwash the tar sands by promoting it as "ethical oil".  They've even commissioned their own report by the Cambridge Energy Research Associates suggesting that emissions from tar sands oil were only 5-15% higher than traditional oil products.  <!--break-->

So why should we be worried? For three reasons:

•    Canada and the EU are in free trade negotiations hoping to conclude the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (Ceta) by 2012 which could open EU markets to dirty tar sands oil and damaging efforts to curb global warming pollution;

•    European Union (EU) decision-makers adopted a Fuel Quality Directive [pdf] in 2009 which mandates suppliers to reduce the carbon emissions from transport fuels 6% below 2010 levels by 2020 – and despite significant lobbying to the contrary – they are considering revising the directive to differentiate between oil types (and tar sands oil would be singled out);

•    The European Commission asked Professor Adam Brandt from Stanford University to study oil sands carbon emissions and his report [pdf], just released, shows that over its lifecycle [pdf] (also referred to as “wells to wheels”), fuel from the tar sands have a 23% greater carbon footprint than most oils used in the EU – and definitively the European Commission will have to defend the Ceta and any watered down Fuel Directive.

Environmental advocates, according to the Guardian, strongly oppose the Ceta especially since the draft agreement has a clause which could permit corporations to sue states which bar them market penetration due to environmental regulations – effectively derailing European efforts to cut global warming pollution. Lawyer Steven Shrybman, who studied the draft agreement concluded:

"If Ceta fails to significantly improve on the norms for such trade agreements, it will only add to the serious impediments that now exist under Nafta [North American Free Trade Agreement] and WTO [World Trade Organisation] agreements to establishing effective measures to combat climate change."

Although Alberta supplies very little oil to the EU, tar sands producers and their political allies are on edge fearing that their image will be further tarnished if Alberta crude is formally labeled a carbon-intensive fuel source. Danielle Droitsch from the Pembina Institute writes:

“The truth is, Canadian and Albertan officials are fighting tooth and nail to prevent oilsands being officially classified as a high-carbon fuel anywhere — the reason being that if a major body such as the European Union does so, it'll be much harder for Canadian officials to continue claiming the oilsands are an environmentally responsible source of oil.”

According to The Tyee, since countries such as China and India have copied EU emissions standards, referring to tar sands oil as a heavy global warming polluter could harm the market growth for this dirty product. That is also the thinking of Albertan Energy Minister Ron Liepert who was dispatched two weeks ago to London and Brussels in order to lobby on behalf of the oil sands:

“The European Union is not currently a major market for Alberta’s oil sands products, but any legislation or tariffs adopted by the union’s government can serve as a model for individual nations around the world.”

With the facts in hand, once again, it is safe to say that Minister Liepert is right: “There is a spin campaign by government and industry and then there's the truth.”

If you are interested in learning more, read The Tar Sands Long Shadow: Canada’s Campaign to Kill Climate Policies Outside Our Borders.

February 09 2011


Prince of Wales: climate change sceptics 'playing a reckless game of roulette'

Climate change sceptics are "playing a reckless game of roulette" with the future of their grandchildren, the Prince of Wales on Wednesday told a European Union conference on global warming.

January 28 2011


A “Dash For Gas” Will Threaten Renewable Energy Development And Climate Action: British MPs

A new report from Britain’s House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee warns the government that proposed energy reforms may have the perverse effect of encouraging companies to focus on building cheap gas power plants, limiting investments in renewable energy. As well, the Committee agreed with testimony from Friends of the Earth arguing that a “dash for gas” [80],  could prevent the country from reaching its climate action targets, especially since gas plants are expected to rely on unproven carbon capture and storage technology.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has said that £200 billion of new investment in energy infrastructure is needed by 2020 to meet rising demand and achieve renewable energy and climate change targets. First published in November 2009, and revised in October 2010, six draft National Policy Statements on energy (NPSs) laid out the importance of building and funding new electricity infrastructure, to include renewables, nuclear, fossil fuels and improved grid connections. The NPSs aim to increase confidence for investors and to speed up the planning process for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects.
According to the report, gas plants provide low-cost, flexible generation that can be brought online quickly and reliably. As such, the Committee sees a continuing role for gas in Britain’s energy mix, especially during peak time usage.

While neither the report nor the Committee recommends a hierarchy of preferred technologies for investment, Tim Yeo, MP and Chair of the Committee, emphasized:

“If these new policy statements don’t put the cleanest forms of energy at the top of the agenda they will leave us dangerously dependent on fossil fuels.”

“The UK’s energy security and our prospects for creating a successful low-carbon economy depend on the government kick-starting a dash for low-carbon technology, not a new dash for gas.”

When commenting on the report, a spokesman from the DECC made clear that his department favoured a flexible approach, and would not abandon gas:

“Some new gas-fired power stations will be needed to complement low-carbon generation.”

“The National Policy Statements set out a clear need for investment in a diverse range of energy sources, so that we are not heavily reliant on just one or two technologies. By setting out this need, we give investors the certainty to bring forward proposals that maintain security of supply and reduce the carbon intensity of our energy mix."

Responding to a possible “dash for gas,” Tom Foulkes, Director-General for the Institution of Civil Engineers, said:

“Government must clearly demonstrate its long-term commitment to low-carbon energy generation by setting an effective floor price for carbon and delivering on the principles outlined in the proposed Electricity Market Reform.”

“Only then will we be able to attract the hefty investment needed and avoid an ongoing reliance on fossil fuels.”

This report has significant implications for Britain. Not only has the government pledged to be the “greenest government ever,” but it must also live up to its European Union commitments to reduce greenhouse gases by 20% from 1990 levels by 2020, and to generate 15% of its energy from renewables. The government should therefore understand that expanding gas production will hurt Britain in the long-run by locking it into fossil fuel intensive development. With this in mind, prioritizing renewable energy and considering an energy technology hierarchy is the optimal way to reach its clean growth targets.

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