US plays dirty on tar sands

The EU ap­pears to have backed off on im­por­tant cli­mate change pol­icy be­cause of pres­sure from US-backed Big Oil

Down to Earth - - LAST WORD -

THAT BIG coun­tries arm-twist smaller coun­tries sel­dom oc­ca­sions sur­prise; it is sim­ply the norm in trade deals. The big guys in­vari­ably suc­ceed in get­ting their way be­cause it is they who fix the rules of the game—rules that are pushed by pow­er­ful cor­po­rate in­ter­ests in their coun­tries. That’s how we have a World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion with un­fair and lop­sided rules weighted against de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. A Burk­ina Faso or Chad can­not re­ally ex­pect a just deal when pit­ted against the US.

But now it ap­pears that the big, too, can come un­der pres­sure and in bla­tant ways. At the re­ceiv­ing end is the EU, a group of 28 na­tions that is the world’s largest trad­ing bloc. Weighty as it is, the Goliath hasn’t been able to fight off the pres­sure from Canada and Big Oil on keep­ing out a par­tic­u­larly heavy fuel ob­tained from tar sands, all thanks to the US which has backed them in lob­by­ing against an EU pol­icy to fight global warm­ing.The nub of the dis­pute is the EU’s fuel qual­ity di­rec­tive, or fqd, which aims to cut green­house gas (ghg) emis­sions from fuel by six per cent by 2020. One of the ways it hoped to achieve this goal was by des­ig­nat­ing oil from tar sands as 25 per cent more pol­lut­ing than con­ven­tional oil be­cause of higher ghg emis­sions.Oil from tar sands comes mostly from Canada.

So what was the Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion do­ing in this dirty fight? It tran­spires that Wash­ing­ton was qui­etly putting the screws on its big­gest trad­ing part­ner in the on­go­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions between the two on the Transat­lantic Trade and In­vest­ment Part­ner­ship (ttip). ttip aims to cre­ate the world’s largest free trade zone but ne­go­ti­a­tions have been held in the tight­est of se­crecy, away from any public in­volve­ment or de­bate.

But thanks to doc­u­ments un­earthed by Friends of the Earth, a pol­icy watch­dog, Wash­ing­ton’s role in pres­sur­ing the EU on fqd has come out into the open. Pre­dictably, the US gov­ern­ment was back­ing big busi­ness rather than an EU pol­icy that would re­duce cli­mate change vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties. An an­a­lyst with Friends of the Earth was quoted by ips news agency as say­ing that US of­fi­cials were lob­by­ing against the EU fuel di­rec­tive “in a way that re­flects the in­ter­ests of Chevron, ExxonMo­bil and oth­ers”.

No sur­prises here, re­ally. But why did the EU cave in fol­low­ing Amer­i­can pres­sure and agree to loosen its reg­u­la­tions on fuel emis­sions? News re­ports say Brus­sels has agreed to the US push for a me­dian cal­cu­la­tion, that is, an av­er­age of fuel-emis­sions cal­cu­la­tions in­stead of in­sist­ing on sup­pli­ers divulging the car­bon foot­print of the oil used in their prod­uct. That would make tar sands, de­scribed by en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists as an ex­cep­tion­ally dirty fuel, lit­er­ally blend into the back­ground.

Thank­fully, there is a chance, slen­der how­ever, that the EU’s pusil­la­nim­ity and the US’ com­plic­ity in the dirty deal will not go un­chal­lenged. A clutch of US Con­gress­men and women are once again ques­tion­ing the role of US trade of­fi­cials in get­ting fqd watered down.The law­mak­ers say they are con­cerned that trade and in­vest­ment rules are be­ing used to “un­der­mine or threaten im­por­tant cli­mate poli­cies of other na­tions” and that it would be in­con­sis­tent with the goals ex­pressed in Obama’s Cli­mate Ac­tion Plan.

The EU boasts about open­ness of its trade regime and the “tremen­dous lever­age” it en­joys in talks with its part­ners be­cause of its size. Such a pity that both fac­tors van­ished so quickly in the puff of black smoke re­leased by tar sands. Or is there a quid pro quo in the ttip that we will learn of much later?

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