The following is the substantive part of an email I sent to Norman Baker a couple of days ago:
I should have written to you about the Fuel Quality Directive before now. After all, I am in a unique position as both a member of the Lewes Liberal Democrats, whose MP is responsible for Britain’s vote in the EU on the FQD’s implementation, and a resident of Alberta, home of the tar-sands industry lobbying against implementation.
In 2011, when The Guardian newspaper started reporting that you were going to vote against implementation, I simply did not believe what I was reading. Damian Carrington, who was taking the lead on the issue, is not a journalist whose accuracy I trust (I note in today’s Guardian that, despite reporting on the tar-sands issue for several years, Carrington still thinks that Canada has a president). At first, I treated the reports as so much anti-coalition propaganda, because I could not imagine that you would consider voting against implementation.
I was wrong, but by the time I realized there was substance to the reports, I also knew you were listening to environmental lobbyists, and when you abstained on the vote on implementation I thought you had listened, but were probably constrained from voting for implementation by a promise made to Stephen Harper by David Cameron. Since it is reported that you may be intending to vote against implementation now, clearly I was wrong again.
These are weak excuses for not having lobbied you on the issue myself, and even though I know that you have spoken with Dr James Hanson, who is a million times more qualified than I am to put the argument for FQD implementation, I want you to know that I think you are mistaken, and are overly influenced by the Canadian and oil industry lobbyists.
If I understand your position correctly (and I’m not sure that I do), you do not want the FQD implemented until it includes all unconventional crudes, not just tar-sands. Your critics say this will simply push the FQD into the long grass, which is exactly what the oil industry lobbyists want. You deny that this will happen.
I do not know enough about the way the EU works to know whether a no vote by Britain will result in implementation delayed or indefinitely postponed, but two things are obvious to me:
Firstly, the FQD already includes provision for review in 2015, allowing the other unconventional crudes to be added. This undermines your argument, but your only reply is that you have ‘no faith’ in the review. Why?
Secondly, it is very clear to me, from here in Alberta, that a no vote hands the Canadian Government and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers a propaganda coup. This may seem unimportant compared with the substantive task of reducing the carbon content of European fuel, but it is not. Canada has no realistic plan for reducing its carbon emissions, and no intention of putting one in place. It would have to close down the tar-sands industry, and nobody in Canada wants to talk about that – and I mean nobody. There is an air of unreality about most climate change discussion in Canada that is probably best described as ‘the view from Planet Exxon Mobil’, which infects even environmental organisations. So, for example, we have the environmental group Pembina Institute which does good work on some issues, but on the tar-sands talks about ‘responsible development’. Dr Hansen will have explained to you that there is no responsible development of the tar-sands; the only responsible course of action is no development at all. 350 org has no local groups in Canada.
There are good reasons for the silence about the elephant in the room. No Canadian, however concerned about climate change, wants his or her house and pension fund to devalue, or to lose his or her job. In the federal election of 2007 the Liberal Party presented Canadians with a ‘green shift’ manifesto which would have used carbon taxes to shift development away from the tar-sands and into green industries. Even then, the Liberal leader Stéphane Dion denied it would prevent tar-sands development, although it certainly would have done. The ‘green shift’ was attacked, not just by the Conservatives, but by the New Democrat Party, who objected to the cost to middle-class families; not mentioning that their preferred option, of a carbon trading scheme, would only have been cost free if it was also as ineffective as Europe’s has been.
The ‘green shift’ was rejected by the electorate. The Liberal party has been very careful since then never to say anything sensible about climate change, and it was at that point Canada adopted the perspective of Planet Exxon Mobil.
To give one example: Thomas Mulcair, leader of the official federal opposition (NDP), visited Washington in March this year, where he compared unsustainable development to slavery, but found himself unable to say whether or not he opposed the Keystone XL pipe-line, even though it is as good an example of unsustainable development as can be found anywhere on Earth.
To give another: Justin Trudeau, newly elected leader of the Liberals, has supported tar-sands development, saying it should be defended when foreign critics call for a halt. The Liberal website, nonetheless, states that Canada’s energy policy should be sustainable.
The governing politicians of Canada and the Canadian journalists who support them, use rhetoric that makes it clear that they see the emissions issue as purely one of greenwash. They tend to assume that foreign governments are as cynical as themselves – only paying lip service to the issue as a sop to a tiresome green lobby. I have no doubt that is how Stephen Harper sees David Cameron (perhaps rightly), and possibly you Norman. A no vote will confirm him in that view.
Moreover, it is possible the vote will take place before President Obama has made a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, sending the wrong message at the wrong time to the USA about the importance Europe places on the issue.
Your advisors may have emphasized the importance of Britain’s friendship with Canada, but true friends are truthful with each other, and in the long run it will not help Canada if it is allowed to continue its delusory path. As you know, Nicholas Stern has recently warned of the risk of ‘stranded assets’, and Canada is at risk of becoming The Country of Stranded Assets. Honest speaking about the tar-sands industry, and a vote in favour of implementation of the FQD, would be a friendlier act to Canada than giving in to its lobbyists. …………..
There is one point I wish I had included in the email, which is that it is a very strange situation, when a Liberal Democrat MP expresses a lack of faith in the ability of the EU to do what it says it is going to do (carry out a review of the FQD in 2015), but no such scepticism is being expressed by Greenpeace.