An open letter to the EU Parliament Environment (ENVI) Committee
Dear ENVI Committee,
Next week you have to make an important decision on the future of the EU ETS. The Commission has proposed that 900 million allowances due to be auctioned at the beginning of this phase of the ETS be held back and returned to the market before the end of 2020. The objective is to remove a good portion of the allowance surplus that currently exists in the trading system and is putting extreme downward pressure on the resulting price of CO2 emissions. This isn’t a full solution to the problems that confront the trading system, but it is the only politically possible route forward that has been identified. It will provide the necessary breathing room for a more structural approach which must come over the next two years and which will cover the period through to 2030 and beyond.
The ETS was designed and implemented as the principal pricing mechanism to guide investment in power generation and industrial facilities across the EU such that long term CO2 reduction goals could be met at the lowest cost to society. Quite simply, it isn’t performing that role today. While Europe should be gradually shifting away from unmitigated coal and beginning to implement carbon capture and storage (CCS), coal consumption is on the rise and the CCS Demonstration Programme is on the brink of complete collapse. This is because the CO2 price in Europe today is effectively zero. The few Euros that an emissions allowance can command in the market is a reflection of future value, but even that is a cause for concern. At €4 today, this points to a price expectation in 2030 of €7, hardly an indication of a robust market based approach to managing emissions and introducing new energy technologies.
Many have argued that the market is working and delivering on the 2020 target. For this reason they have further stated that market intervention is not necessary. Unfortunately this is misguided and poorly informed thinking. While there is no doubt that annual compliance is functioning under the ETS and therefore the system will also force compliance in 2020, there is very clear evidence that longer term investment is not being guided by the ETS. Rather, investment is either not happening at all or is being driven by other factors and policies, some at EU level but many at Member State level as well. This is not leading the EU down a path of lowest cost emissions reduction, but is instead driving up energy costs in the EU. The very low price of CO2 in the EU does not represent low cost emission reduction opportunities being implemented, rather it is a very real symptom of a high energy cost pathway. This is important as it is not, or has ever been, the cost of CO2 that is impacting the competitiveness of EU industry. Even at previous levels of up to €30, in combination with the free allocation provisions for trade exposed industries, the CO2 price is a relatively benign factor.
The vote on backloading needs to be a “yes” vote. This signals the intention of the European Parliament to begin the process of restoration of the most cost effective approach to meeting Europe’s energy needs and reducing emissions over time. A “yes” vote won’t immediately restore the ETS to good health, but it is a start. Much work remains to be done. But following the advice of those who counsel for a “no” vote would mark the start of a very different pathway for meeting Europe’s energy needs – one that is less certain, more expensive and probably with much higher emissions over time.
Chief Climate Adviser, Royal Dutch Shell
Chairman, International Emissions Trading Association