The EU Fuel Quality Directive

The Fuel Quality Directive is an important piece of EU climate legislation which held the promise of discouraging European oil suppliers from . It sets a target for reducing emissions from transport fuels by 6% between 2010 and 2020.

To meet the target, former European Climate Commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, proposed to label oil imports according to the source (feedstock) from which they are extracted and rate each different sources by the greenhouse gas emissions they cause. This would have discouraged oil importers from importing the types of oil which cause the most emissions, such as tar sands.

But after 5 years of pressure from the oil lobby a critically weakened version has now been approved.

Tar sands

Tar sands oil is the most polluting fossil fuel in commercial production today. It is currently only exploited on a large scale in Canada

The process of converting tar sands into fuel releases three to five times the greenhouse gas emissions of conventional oil – due to the vast amounts of energy required in the process.

The extraction of tar sands oil also results in devastating land use change, destroying natural boreal forests and peatlands, and impacting heavily on biodiversity and indigenous communities. Toxic tailing ponds regularly leak and pollute the freshwater sources on which local communities depend. Canadian First Nations communities are especially suffering from severe impacts on their health.

While only small amounts of tar sands oil have been exported to Europe so far, the completion of pipelines from Alberta, Canada where the tar sands are produced to the coast could see an enormous rise in tar sands oil imports into Europe.

Lobby pressure

The Fuel Quality Directive was due to be implemented in 2010. Five years, later, after delays and obstructions  due to intense lobby pressure by the oil industry and the Canadian government and United States governments it is finally about to be implemented – but only because it has been stripped of its key measure to keep tar sands out of Europe.

The Canadian government, at the behest of the oil industry and backed by the United States, succeeded in keeping the door open for tar sands in Europe through a massive lobby effort and abuse of trade negotiations – all the while ignoring its responsibilities to tackle climate change. 

It’s now time for European politicians to stand up for climate action and finally ban tar sands in Europe.