The Helmholtz Association of Research Centres, a major German scientific body with more than 30,000 researchers and US$4.4 billion in annual funding, has dropped out of a joint Alberta tar sands project over fears that the project was damaging the institution's reputation.
In April 2011, the Province of Alberta invested $25 million to form the “Helmholtz-Alberta Initiative” that would study ways to deal with leakage from the toxic tailings ponds that are a by-product of tar sands mining operations. The HAI was also tasked with finding ways to upgrade the energy extracted from bitumen and lignite coal in order to reduce energy consumption, and a few other “sustainable solutions” to Canada's ongoing environmental and energy challenges.
Speaking on behalf of the Helmholtz Association, Professor Frank Messner, told EU media that:
“It was seen as a risk for our reputation. As an environmental research centre we have an independent role as an honest broker and doing research in this constellation could have had reputational problems for us, especially after Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol.”
The Helmholtz Association has come under fire recently for their work on Alberta's tar sands operations, most notably in 2012 when Germany's Green Party (a very powerful political player) filed a query to the German government, asking why German taxpayers' money was going into a project that contradicts Germany's official climate policy agenda.
The response at the time from government was very evasive and concluded that the project had only just started and that it was too early to say anything more substantial.
This recent news is the latest in a string of stories about the Alberta tar sands and climate policy damaging Canada's reputation abroad. Earlier this year, former BC Premier Gordon Campbell, and current High Commissioner to the UK, stated in a meeting that Canada's tar sands are “a totemic issue, hitting directly on Brand Canada.”