In mid-January a dozen sharply dressed activists confidently swung through the glass doors of the department for Business, Innovation and Skills and occupied the swanky lobby. Their demand? To meet Lord Stephen Green. The former chairman of HSBC had recently been head-hunted by the coalition government to take over the role of Minister for Trade. Unelected, one of his first tasks is to oversee free trade talks between the EU and Canada, which many fear will deepen Europe’s involvement in the ecologically devastating Canadian tar sands oil industry.
The activists from UK Tar Sands Network had expected to be immediately thrown out, but the security guards looked on with interest as the protesters opened up their banners and delivered a noisy teach-in, educating the building’s employees about the trade deal no-one has heard of for half an hour.
‘We almost ran out of things to say!’ reports one of the activists, Emily, who was wearing glasses over her contact lenses to increase her smartness. ‘But it was really important to get the message out there. These trade negotiations are going to undermine all kinds of social and ecological rights, with virtually no public scrutiny.’
The CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) trade talks currently under way threaten to give EU companies such as BP and Shell the right to challenge Canadian environmental and social legislation that might otherwise curb this extremely environmentally damaging means of fossil fuel production. The talks also aim to open up the EU market to imports of carbon-intensive tar sands oil for the first time. As Emily explains, the activists want to stop both: ‘We’re trying to get Europe out of the tar sands and keep tar sands oil out of Europe.’
Although Lord Green was ‘not available’ on the day, officials did say he would meet the activists at a later date. He is yet to return their calls, but the action hasn’t stopped.
On 17 January, the UK Tar Sands Network teamed up with the Indigenous Environmental Network, Friends of the Earth Europe, the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Union of Public Employees and descended on Brussels to protest outside the trade talks themselves; quite a feat, given that their hush-hush nature meant the campaigners only discovered the meeting’s location on the day itself.
Similarly, when the Province of Alberta’s energy minister Ron Liepert showed up in London to lobby the UK to water down EU climate legislation, a band of UK Tar Sands Network activists were there to make sure he didn’t go unchallenged.Rowenna Davis