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New Report: Trade Talks Threaten to Undermine EU Climate Policy and Bring Tar Sands to Europe

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Co-authored with Courtenay Lewis, Campaign Representative, Sierra Club Responsible Trade Program

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As 2014 brings in a new wave of global temperature records, countries implementing policies that reduce climate disrupting pollution should be lauded for their efforts.

But a report released today by the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth Europe, Friends of the Earth U.S., Transport & Environment, Greenpeace, and Council of Canadians presents new evidence that the U.S. government is joining the Canadian government and oil lobbyists in pushing the European Union (EU) to weaken an important climate policy called the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD). Even more troubling, U.S. efforts to include the FQD in negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) -- a free trade agreement being negotiated in secret between the U.S. and EU -- could critically undermine the EU's ability to lower climate emissions.

The EU adopted the FQD in 2009 as means to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels and ultimately lower transportation emissions by 6 percent by 2020. In 2011, the European Commission drafted proposed guidelines for how fuel suppliers could implement the policy and proposed that different types of fuels be classified by their climate emissions, meaning some fuel sources would be labelled as having higher greenhouse gas intensity values than others. Such a system would encourage fuel suppliers to switch from dirtier fuels to cleaner types in order to meet the emissions reduction target.

Not surprisingly, oil corporations and their lobbyists on both side of the Atlantic have used every tool at their disposal to undermine the FQD. They have been joined by the Canadian government -- led by the infamously pro-tar sands Prime Minister Stephen Harper -- and argued that the FQD discriminates against Canada's tar sands. Canada has even threatened the EU with a World Trade Organization challenge. In reality, the EU's proposed science-based approach would label all carbon intensive sources of oil including liquefied coal, oil shale and tar sands as having high greenhouse gas intensity -- not discriminate against countries.

Sadly, the United States government, at the urging of the oil industry, has joined Canada and its oil industry in raising concerns about the landmark climate policy. Moreover, the U.S. now has a new playing field in which to weaken the FQD: negotiations for the proposed U.S.-EU trade pact, also known as the TTIP.

Ideally, a 21st century U.S.-EU trade agreement would allow -- and encourage -- countries to implement policies that would address the growing threat of climate disruption. Instead, today's report highlights that our own U.S. negotiators seem to be characterizing the FQD as a potential barrier to trade, rather than a necessary policy that should be emulated.

As detailed in the report, despite claims from the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to Congress that "USTR is not pressing the European Commission for any particular treatment of crude oil under the FQD," emails uncovered by Friends of the Earth Europe reveal that the U.S. has, in fact, pushed the EU to weaken the FQD proposal. They've done so by encouraging the EU to strip out parts of the implementing guidelines that would "single out" the most polluting sources of oil like tar sands.

This would be akin to removing the nutritional information listed on food products. Rice cakes and doughnuts have distinct nutritional properties, which is something governments have decided that consumers have a right to know. Equally, the proposed FQD would recognize that all fuels are not created equal and that some release more climate-disrupting gases than others. But representatives of the USTR do not seem to agree, and correspondence indicates that they are pushing for a policy that would hinder the EU's ability to flag tar sands imports as particularly greenhouse gas disrupting.

Disturbingly, the weakening of an important climate initiative in the TTIP negotiations should come as no surprise. Last week, a leaked trade document uncovered by the Washington Post revealed an EU proposal for the TTIP that would force the U.S. to automatically approve all exports of crude oil and liquefied natural gas to the EU.

The TTIP (which began a new negotiating round this week) is facing massive public opposition to proposed provisions like investor-state dispute settlement, which would empower corporations to sue countries over environmental policies they don't like before private trade tribunals. Today's report reveals that even the FQD -- an ambitious climate policy that the EU has been pushing for years -- could be critically weakened simply in the process of the secretive, non-inclusive negotiations.

Read our report here.

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