Campaigners concerned about EU support for Canada's tar sands industry joined Corporate Europe Observatory to highlight their fears about the EU's potential involvement in this catastrophic project. on 11 July, as the 8th round of EU-Canada free trade negotiations (CETA) got underway CEO, the UK Tar Sands Network, the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Council of Canadians organised a lobby tour highlighting the organisations supporting European oil companies' engagement in tar sands, undermining EU attempts to move to a better climate policy.
Canada's tar sands are characterised as the biggest and most destructive energy project ever. The extraction of these oil resources has been heavily criticized for the severity of its environmental impacts on the boreal forest, water and public health, especially for the indigenous communities living in the area. Besides mass deforestation in the Canadian wilderness, tar sands oil extraction produces three to five times more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil, threatening climate protection. Scientists are also concerned about the rising levels of carcinogens as toxic pollution from the tar sands poisons the waters, animals and woodland ecosystems.
Dr. John O' Connor, a doctor for the communities living downstream from the tar sands, was the first to notice high rates of rare and unusual forms of cancer in the area. The government of Alberta initially accused Dr O'Connor of causing "undue alarm" but eventually studied cancer rates in Fort Chipewyan. They found that what Dr. O'Connor had said was true - there was indeed a higher incidence of cancer than expected. Speaking in front of the Canadian Mission to the EU - the starting point of the lobby tour - O'Connor pointed out the strategy of the Canadian government to cover up the devastating health and environment impacts of the tar sands and called on the EU not to be misled and not to get involved in the tar sands through the trade agreement.
Jasmine Thomas, an indigenous woman from one of the most affected territories in British Columbia began the tour by singing a song of her community about the importance of land and water. She talked about her community's fight against a proposed tar sands pipeline across their home territory in British Columbia - a fight about the exercise of inherent rights, such as the right to life, to a quality life, to a future for their land and their ancestors.
There is widespread concern that CETA will undermine these rights. Although the negotiations appear to be moving towards a conclusion, they seem far from transparent. Jess Worth from the UK Tar Sands Network and Stuart Trew from the Council of Canadians both emphasized the extraordinary level of lobbying from the Canadian government and oil companies in the EU in recent months. While some in the EU are working to reduce CO2 emissions, Canadians are clearly using CETA to promote their industry, undermining any CO2 reductions in the process. The proposed EU Fuel Quality Directive (FQD), which categorizes crude oil derived from the tar sands differently from conventional oil, excluding tar sands imports to Europe, has been heavily lobbied. Canada has described the FQD as un unwarranted obstacle to international trade, and threatened to take legal action if the directive is passed. A letter sent by the Canadian Embassy to the EU Comission warned that Ottawa might take retaliatory action if the EU was to introduce strict rules on the environmental effects of tar sands. Canada seems determined to resist the inclusion of any provisions in CETA which would establish a need to balance trade liberalization with the need to deal with the climate change.
In addition, proposed investment rules in CETA would entitle EU-based oil companies to challenge environmental regulation for oil sands operations. Under the NAFTA agreement, corporations can already seek compensation from governments, entitling investors to huge cash payments to compensate for government policies that hurt their business interests. A similar clause in CETA would grant significant power to corporations to threaten to sue the EU for compensation, potentially undermining a range of social and environmental legislation on the EU. These powers outweigh the rights of indigenous people, since communities impacted by corporate activity have no equivalent right to hold corporations responsible under trade agreements.
The lobby tour also visited the UK Representation to the EU, BP's EU Office on Rond-Point Schuman, DG Trade and the European Parliament which have all been pushing and supporting European oil companies involvement to the tar sands project. More specifically, the UK is blocking the inclusion of tar sands in the Fuel Quality Directive, even though its inclusion is supported by most member states. BP, one of Europe's oil giants, recently decided to enter its first tar sands extraction project. The Sunrise project is set to produce 200,000 barrels of oil per day by 2014, polluting the local environment and creating serious health and environment problems for local First Nation Communities. DG Trade recently blocked DG Climate's attempts to include tar sands in the FQD, saying it would jeopardise the EU's chances of signing a successful trade agreement with Canada.
The tour ended at the European Parliament by the Society of European Affair Professionals (SEAP) lobbying tree. Although many MEPs have expressed their opposition to tar sands entering Europe, an influential group of MEPs within the Parliament, the European Energy Forum, is working with Commision staff, oil companies and lobby groups to champion the interests of the energy industry.
The organisers expressed the need to keep tar sands oil out of Europe and for CETA negotiations to be transparent so as to ensure public scrutiny and consultation. CETA must respect the rights of indigenous people, and European oil companies must not invest on the tar sands.
Considering their devastating impacts, tar sands are indeed blood oil. It is clear that we are witnessing a conflict between the promotion of further trade liberalisation on the one hand, and human and environmental rights on the other. In any truly democratic regime, government is responsible for ensuring that development does not harm the environment or human health. Even though CETA is not yet concluded, it is obvious that it is being viewed as an important test of EU priorities. Will the EU decision makers prioritize trade liberalisation at the expense of effective environmental regulation, or will they fight to conclude a CETA that is consistent with European climate ambitions and not open the door to Canadian tar sands? It remains to be seen.
Jasmine Thomas, the indigenous woman fighting for her community's rights ended the tour with a beautiful traditional song from her people in British Columbiaabout being grateful and thankful for the beautiful day, for the land, for the sun, for the water that the Earth gave us. It is a beautiful world, yes. For how long though?