Durban blog: Fossil of the day

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Jane Burston sees the UK scoop an unwanted gong for its support of Canadian oil sands

Celebrating the 'dinosaurs' of the climate talks, the ‘Fossil of the Day' awards recognises the worst performing countries in the negotiations.

It's organised by the Climate Action Network (CAN), a worldwide network of around 500 NGOs that are working to promote action to help mitigate climate change.

The hilariously sarcastic awards are presented daily during climate talks by campaigners, with NGOs stepping in to make acceptance speeches on behalf of the countries. What better way to keep spirits up and while away the time spent hoping for a deal than chucking rocks at the most badly behaved countries.

Top of the list of Fossils of the Day is Canada, which has won five Fossil gongs in the last two weeks. Their repeated bad behaviour centres round inevitable themes - oil extraction from tar sands, lack of support for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, and refusal to meet the targets it committed to in the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

Canada has so dominated the list that there's little room for other countries.

But many people blame Canada's stance on climate change on the US. The US, in its attempts to increase energy security, is likely to dominate the market for oil from Canadian tar sands. The relationship goes beyond oil - the US represents over 90 per cent of all Canadian trade. To defend this trade, Canada has become closely allied with the US and is follow its lead in disrupting climate negotiation.

The US has also been busy winning Fossil awards for itself. Unsurprisingly for their own refusal to sign a deal, for "being in denial about the science" and for attempting to delay any chance of a deal until after 2020.

Embarrassingly for us Brits, the UK also managed to snatch a Fossil award. The UK's award was for UK support for - you guessed it - oil extraction from Canadian tar sands. A spokesperson for the Climate Action Network said, "UK Ministers have done a deal with the Canadian government to support the entry of tar sands into the European fuel supply chain, undermining proposed provisions of the European Fuel Quality Directive."

Chris Huhne was surprised to discover that his Government has achieved this accolade, when the UK Government is working on measures that may reduce investment in this method of oil extraction.

His explanation: carbon accounting rules currently mean that the carbon footprint of oil in the UK is averaged out across all sources of fuel. The Government is working to change this, and produce emissions factors which distinguish the emissions impact of Brent Crude compared to ‘dirtier' oil from countries such as Venezuela, Angola and Canadian tar sands. Distinguishing between ‘dirtier' and ‘cleaner' oil in carbon accounting will increase transparency and is expected to push purchases towards the cleaner varieties.

Probably both things are true - reflecting their bipolar approach to being the ‘greenest government ever'.

At least we've only got the one. Canada is a dead cert to win the ‘Fossil of the Year' award, having been awarded no less than 14 Fossil awards throughout the year. For as long as the US don't mind about their environmental performance, I doubt they'll care.

Jane Burston is founder and director of offsetting company Carbon Retirement

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