It was seen as a risk for our reputation,” Professor Frank Messner, Helmholtz UFZ’s head of staff said stiffly over the phone from his offices in Leipzig.
“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,” he said.
The HAI had been tasked with upgrading bitumen and lignite coal to reduce energy consumption, and finding ways to deal with toxic overspill from the tar sands industry such as ‘tail ponds’- toxic lakes that now cover up to 176 square kilometers of Alberta.
But in reply to a written question from the German socialist MEP Frank Schwabe, a statement from the country’s education and research ministry on February 20 said that a moratorium had been imposed on collaboration, pending an independent assessment into its environmental bona fides which will conclude in June.
“The assessment evaluates whether a project conforms to sustainability principles,” Thomas Rachel, the education and research minister said.
“The purpose of the procedure is to ensure that sustainability criteria are being adhered to and that the research carried out as part of HAI can contribute significantly to the improvement of sustainability outcomes.”