Pollution fears as UK blocks European ban on fuel from tar sands

The British Government is unlikely to support an EU push to include tar sands in its new fuel directive

A A A

The Coalition Government's claim to be the "greenest government ever" has come under fresh scrutiny from politicians and environmental groups who accuse Britain of undermining a Europe-wide forecourt ban on one of the most climate-polluting fuels.

Britain is one of just two major European nations opposing efforts to prohibit sales of petrol and diesel obtained from the Canadian tar sands.

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.

Now the Transport minister, Norman Baker, has suggested that the British Government will not support an EU push to include tar sands in its new fuel directive this year, committing members to reducing carbon emissions.

The directive sets a legally binding six per cent greenhouse gas reduction target for Europe's transport fuels by 2020. Campaigners say that the inclusion of tar sand fuel emissions – which are at least 23 per cent greater than conventional oil emissions – would in effect ban the carbon-intensive crude oil from entering the European Union.

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.

Paul Monaghan, head of sustainability and social goals at The Co-operative, said: "Failure to address tar sands emissions would undermine the whole objective of this landmark climate change legislation. There is no reasonable rationale not to include the tar sands in the directive – it is clear the Government have swallowed Canada's line that we are just taking about another source of conventional crude oil.

"These reports of lower emissions from Canada just don't stand up to scientific scrutiny, while the 23 per cent figure has been approved by the European Commission's independent study."

According to Mr Monoghan, "exploiting Canada's tar sands reserves alone would be sufficient to take the world to the brink of runaway climate change".

In a letter to The Co-operative on 5 May, Mr Baker said the UK is opposed to the inclusion of tar sands in the directive until all crude oil sources with above-average emissions are also included. A spokesman for the Department of Transport said: "The Government is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transport fuels. Be in no doubt, we want to address the higher emissions of fuel derived from all heavy crudes, not just single out one particular source."

Politicians and campaigners called this a "simple stalling tactic", which could take years to complete. MEP Linda McAvan, who sits on the European Parliament's Environment Committee, said: "I know that the latest lobbying ploy for those who are opposed to accurate labelling of tar sands is to suggest a further delay for further research on different types of conventional oil. I find it unacceptable that a country which has not even tried to meet their Kyoto emission reduction target should be lobbying to water down the EU's environmental legislation."

Charlie Kronick, a climate adviser at Greenpeace, said the power of large companies like BP should not be "underestimated" when it comes to the Government's decision-making. "The UK is measuring up environmental interests and business interests and, as ever, when a nation is struggling to come out of a recession, the business case gets a strong push," he said.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies