Tar sands – campaign summary

The Co-operative was the first organisation in the UK to campaign against tar sands expansion.

Our goal

We will continue with our Clean Energy Revolution campaign, which seeks to end the use of unconventional fossil fuels and inspire community energy growth.

Our report Unconventional oil – scrapping the bottom of the barrel, published in partnership with WWF-UK in July 2008 made headlines around the world when it concluded that exploiting Canada’s tar sands reserves alone would be sufficient to take us to the brink of runaway climate change.

Our campaign set out to raise public awareness and ‘poster boy’ tar sands expansion as an example of all that is tokenistic and piecemeal about current progress towards a low carbon economy.

We are engaging with the UK Government and European Union to introduce legislation that would discourage tar sands investment and we directly engaged oil companies and other investors to highlight the risks involved.

We are also championing the Beaver Lake Cree’s legal action against expanding developments within their traditional territories in Alberta, Canada.

Shareholder and investor engagement

In September 2008 we held an investor event to highlight the risks to UK savings and pensions and to start mobilising investors to put pressure on the industry.

We worked with the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment and other investors and in March 2010 co-tabled shareholder resolutions at the AGMs of Shell and BP. These were the largest independent resolutions ever tabled in the UK and received significant support from shareholders. This followed a campaign by a coalition of investors, unions, environmental organisations and faith groups to mobilise the public to contact their pension funds in support.

In partnership with WWF-UK, we also published reports called Opportunity cost of the tar sands, which detailed how the $379 billion earmarked for tar sands expansion could be better spent to help bring about a low carbon economy, and CCS in the Alberta oil sands – a dangerous myth’, which debunked the industry claim that CCS could significantly reduce tar sands emissions.

UK Government engagement – mandatory greenhouse gas reporting

We have been engaging with the UK Government in support of mandatory greenhouse gas reporting for large companies since 2009. This would improve oil company transparency and discourage tar sands investment.

We have tabled two Early Day Motions on the subject and over 13,000 customers and members have contacted their MP in support. The first was signed by 200 MPs and the second currently has 163 signatories, making them amongst the most heavily supported.

In March 2010, in partnership with WWF-UK, we published the report Toxic Fuels – Toxic Investments, why we need mandatory greenhouse gas reporting. In January 2011, we mobilised 190 businesses and civil society organisations to sign an open letter to Government asking that they introduce reporting as soon as possible. A Government decision is expected in 2012.

European Union and UK engagement – Fuel Quality Directive

In June 2010, we formed a coalition to campaign for a ban on tar sands fuel imports into Europe as part of the Fuel Quality Directive.

As part of this campaign we took the Tarnished Earth street gallery to Brussels and displayed it outside of the European Parliament as it was debating the Directive. We also delivered an EU citizen’s petition with 21,000 signatories and held a well attended MEP briefing session.

In Parliament MEPs spoke in favour of our campaign and shortly afterwards the European Commission announced it would include tar sands in the Directive.

The next step to it becoming law is agreement from EU member states. Unfortunately after aggressive lobbying from the Canadian Government and oil industry the UK Government sought to remove reference to tar sands. In response we worked with Avaaz to mobilise over 100,000 signatories calling on the UK Government to change its position.

We also worked with The Guardian to run a series of articles, including a front page in November 2011 - 27/11/11, 06/12/11, 20/02/12, 23/02/12 and 23/02/12.

In February 2012 member states voted with the UK abstaining, a majority was not reached ‘for’ or ‘against’. An impact assessment is now planned and a new vote will take place early 2013.

Public awareness raising

We have supported the UK releases of the tar sands films Dirty Oil, H2Oil and Petropolis. In February 2010, we beamed the premiere of Dirty Oil live from London to nearly 30 cinemas around the country to an audience of thousands.

Our regional Co-operative Membership teams have also been showing the films up and down the country.

In September 2010, we launched the Tarnished Earth street gallery on London’s south bank with Ray Mears and Chief Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation. Photographs from the exhibition were used in large photo features in the Metro, Guardian and Independent.

After London, the street gallery visited cities across the UK, including Leeds, Birmingham, Belfast, Brussels, Manchester, Brighton, Plymouth, Cardiff, Northampton, Edinburgh, Swansea, Isle of Man, Sheffield and Liverpool. We estimate that over 8 million people saw the exhibition.



Watch a short timelapse video of the Tarnished Earth street gallery's launch in London, September 2010.

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