Over the last week or so, visitors to the Lib Dem Voice may have seen articles purporting to outline my position, and that of the government’s, on the EU Fuel Quality Directive and the treatment of tar sands within it. These articles have been misleading to say the least. We in the Lib Dems have a proud history of fighting climate change and campaigning for environmental causes. This is no different in the coalition and no different to the approach I am taking on the Directive. I wanted to take this opportunity therefore to provide some facts which will, I hope, alleviate concerns that some may have, and also clarify my position on this.
I first got into politics because of my concerns about the way in which the environment was being treated. My first campaign ever, in 1987, was about pesticide misuse. I was campaigning on climate change when most people had never heard of it and those who had denied it existed. I have spent my political life arguing for, and winning, measures to protect the environment and bring about a more sustainable future. Only this week, I have succeeded, to take just two examples, in persuading the government to cut rail fares by 2%, and to allocate another £20m for new green buses.
It may be helpful if I provide some background to the Directive. The EU Fuel Quality Directive requires that fuel suppliers reduce the greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy (“GHG intensity”) by 6 per cent by 2020. The European Commission, with the engagement of member states, is currently assessing options for the accounting of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels under this.
The articles have reported that I am lobbying against the Directive. This is categorically incorrect. First, it is not a question of lobbying for or against the Fuel Quality Directive. It already exists, and I support it. What is at issue is what carbon values the Directive gives to different sources of fuel or feedstocks as they are known. Some say they have grave concerns about the highly polluting nature of Canadian tar sands. So do I. But unlike them, I am also concerned about other highly polluting crudes, such as those from Nigeria, Angola and Venezuela. I think Lib Dems would agree that we should not take a backwards step on tackling these other highly polluting crudes.
Some ‘green’ campaigners want a specific value to Canadian tar sands but only a general default single value to all conventional crudes, despite the fact that the greenhouse gas impacts vary enormously across conventional crudes. Yet there is at present virtually no fuel derived from tar sands in Europe, and they would be in effect ignoring probably 99% of the fossil fuels we use. I want to use the Fuel Quality Directive to drive down the use of all heavy crudes, not just one source. I simply cannot understand why some environmentalists seem completely uninterested in conventional crudes.
But it is because I am, that I persuaded the British government to put to our EU partners a system whereby all fossil fuel sources were placed in either a high, medium or low band, with specific values being advocated as and when the detailed information became available. Under my scenario, such a value would be given to Canadian tar sands right away but within this banding arrangement that captured all other fossil fuel sources from day one.
The articles have suggested that the government is “attempting to kill this legislation by delaying it for years”. Yet my officials at the Department for Transport advise me that a banding system could be up and running within six months to a year. By contrast, if the EU fails to put a system in place now to cover all crudes, it is unlikely that the matter will be revisited for years, and all we will have is a specific value for one source that at the moment barely exists, as far as Europe is concerned.
Incidentally, the only reason we have a specific value for Canadian tar sands is because the Canadians keep proper records in an open way that allows that figure to be calculated. Such transparency is a positive thing and we should not be encouraging secrecy amongst those heavy polluters who would have no incentive whatsoever to produce accurate data under their preferred approach.
So I want a system brought in as early as possible that covers all crude sources. I have asked the pressure groups for their views on how that might be achieved. So far the only response I have met is silence. It seems the policy they want is to clobber the Canadians and to hell with the rest. What kind of an environmental policy is that?
The reports have also suggested that I am “a good man being forced to tow the Conservative party line.” This appears to be based on the fact (which I found out from a pressure group) that David Cameron has recently met the Canadian Prime Minister. This explanation was then given oxygen by the Guardian, which listed the meetings ministers, including me, have had with oil companies. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. What the Guardian did not list, of course, were all the meetings, far more numerous in number, that I have had with the green pressure groups.
And let me make this absolutely clear. I have not had any contact, or any pressure on me, from the Prime Minister or anyone else at No10 about this issue. Nor has any other Tory, bar the then Transport Secretary Philip Hammond, even discussed the matter with me.
The position now is that discussions are ongoing within the EU on the best approach to the measuring and treatment of fossil fuels within the Fuel Quality Directive. Countries like the Netherlands have made their own creative suggestions. My aim throughout has been, and is now, to use those discussions to get the best deal possible for the environment. I am not going to be blown off course for the sake of an easy life by these inaccurate campaigns, and neither should the Lib Dem party.