In the wake of the failure of the European Commission’s project to discourage the use of the most polluting fuels with a labelling system, which came a cropper in February, the controversial oil produced from Canadian tar sands will not be identified as such — an outcome that can be directly attributed to efforts made by the Netherlands among other states, and not something that will be a source of pride for us.

There should have been no dispute over the Commission proposal for labels to indicate CO2 emissions generated by petrol and other fuels. The arduous process required to extract oil from tar sands is highly polluting: requiring large amounts of energy, with 22% more CO2 emissions than conventional extraction, and extensive damage to the Canadian landscape.

Given that Anglo-Dutch giant Shell is actively involved in tar sands, it is hard to believe that the Netherlands and the UK’s virulent opposition to the Commission’s project is merely a coincidence.

Ball now in the court of environment ministers

Apparently Shell knocked on a lot of doors in The Hague to lobby against the project, and no doubt companies such as BP and Total took similar action in London and Paris. These initiatives mainly took the form of protests to highlight “discrimination” against oil produced from bituminous sands or well worn attacks on Brussels’ desire to regulate everything, a ploy that always works.

Worse still, last year Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, which aims to reduce greenhouse gases — officially, because neither the United States or China were actively participating in the treaty. However, the real motive for the move is Canada’s desire to freely export oil produced from bituminous sands and other raw materials.

It is certainly a pity that Canada’s main priority is the preservation of its economic interests, but that is the case. At the same time, the effectiveness of lobbying initiatives undertaken by big-oil companies like Shell is hardly surprising. But we should not allow them to have the last word.

The ball is now in the court of the environment ministers. They should have the courage to put the public interest before the interests of the energy industry. The European project to label oil from bituminous sands as harmful can still be saved.