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Tar sands billions could be better spent

15 March 2010

WWF-UK and The Co-operative Bank have launched a report showing how the massive resources being poured into environmentally damaging tar sands could instead be used to create green energy for the future.

The thought-provoking new WWF/Co-operative Bank report, Opportunity Cost of the Tar Sands, puts into perspective the estimated £254 billion ($379 billion) that the big oil companies are planning to invest in tar sands between now and 2025.

It explains how this money could instead be used to kick-start ambitious green energy plans in Europe, or to enable the world to hit half the UN’s Millennium Development Goals in the 49 least-developed countries, which would mean averting four million child deaths annually.

The money that oil companies want to pump into tar sands would cover the cost of the proposed Desertec Industrial Initiative, linking North African solar plants into a supergrid supplying 15% of Europe’s electricity by 2050. Or it could fund a Europe-wide shift to electric vehicles.

This money would also be enough to halve the number of people in the world living without access to clean water and sanitation, provide universal primary education, and help avert the deaths of four million children, 300,000 mothers and almost half a million victims of HIV and TB.

WWF’s head of campaigns, Colin Butfield, says: “This report has thrown up some quite staggering statistics in terms of how this money could be spent trying to save the planet rather than destroying it.

“If Canada extracts its probable reserves of oil from tar sands, this will almost single-handedly commit the world to dangerous levels of CO2 in the atmosphere – contributing to dangerous climate change, destroying ecosystems and habitats around the world. We cannot afford for this to happen.

“The $379bn question is: will the oil companies listen? For the planet’s sake, they have to.”

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Aerial view of Shell Albian mine north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada

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Opportunity cost of tar sands development