Archive for the ‘Australia’ Category

One of the best books I have read in recent years is the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson. It’s also a great management book, although I don’t think that it was really intended for that purpose. In discussing Jobs’ approach to life and business management, Isaacson goes to some length to describe the concept of a Reality Distortion Field (RDF), a tool used on many occasions by Jobs to inspire progress and even bet the company on a given outcome. The RDF was said to be Steve Jobs’ ability to convince himself and others to believe almost anything with a mix of charm, charisma, bravado, hyperbole, marketing, appeasement and persistence. RDF was said to distort an audience’s sense of proportion and scales of difficulties and made them believe that the task at hand was possible. This also seems to be the case with a number of renewable energy, but most notably the Solar PV, advocates.

The Talosians from Star Trek were the first aficionados of the RFD

It is always with interest that I open the periodic e-mail from fellow Australian Paul Gilding and read the latest post from him in The Cockatoo Chronicles. But this time, the full force of the Renewables Distortion Field hit me. Gilding claims that;

 I think it’s time to call it. Renewables and associated storage, transport and digital technologies are so rapidly disrupting whole industries’ business models they are pushing the fossil fuel industry towards inevitable collapse. Some of you will struggle with that statement. Most people accept the idea that fossil fuels are all powerful – that the industry controls governments and it will take many decades to force them out of our economy. Fortunately, the fossil fuel industry suffers the same delusion. In fact, probably the main benefit of the US shale gas and oil “revolution” is that it’s keeping the fossil fuel industry and it’s cheer squad distracted while renewables, electric cars and associated technologies build the momentum needed to make their takeover unstoppable – even by the most powerful industry in the world.

My immediate approach to dealing with a statement like this plays into the next paragraph by Gilding, where he says;

How could they miss something so profound? One thing I’ve learnt from decades inside boardrooms, is that, by and large, oil, coal and gas companies live in an analytical bubble, deluded about their immortality and firm in their beliefs that “renewables are decades away from competing” and “we are so cheap and dominant the economy depends on us” and “change will come, but not on my watch”. Dream on boys.

But the energy system is about numbers and analysis, like it or not. Perhaps Gilding needs to at least look in his own back yard before reaching out for global distortion. In a number of posts over the last year or two he was waxed lyrical about the disruption in Australia and consequent shift in its energy mix. Yet the latest International Energy Agency data on Australia shows that fossil fuel use is continuing to rise even as residential solar PV is becoming a domestic “must have”. There is no escaping these numbers!

Australia primary energy to 2012

It is true that solar PV is starting to have an impact on the global energy mix and that at least in some countries the electricity utilities are playing catch-up. But the global shift will likely take decades, even at extraordinary rates of deployment by historical standards. The Shell Oceans scenario portrays such a shift, with solar deployment over the next 20 years bringing it to the level of the global coal industry in 1990 and then in the 30 years from 2030 to 2060 the rate of expansion far exceeds the rate of coal growth we have seen from 1990-2020 (see chart).

Solar growth in Oceans

I would argue that this is a disruptive change, but it still takes all of this century to profoundly impact the energy mix. Even then, there remains a sizable oil, gas and coal industry, although not on the scale of today. Of course this is but one scenario for the course of the global energy system, but it at least aligns in concept with the aspirations of Paul Gilding. I don’t imagine he would be particularly impressed by our Mountains scenario!!

 Solar in Oceans

Many will of course argue that the proof of the RDF is in the Apple share price and its phenomenal success. But this didn’t come immediately. Apple and Jobs had more ups and downs than even the most ardent follower would wish for, with the company teetering on the brink more than once (read the Isaacson account). But it persisted and nearly forty years on it is a global behemoth. However, forty years isn’t exactly overnight and IT change seems to take place at about twice the rate of energy system change. Does that mean new energy companies won’t become global super-majors until much later this century?

 

Emissions Trading via Direct Action in Australia

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The Australian Government recently released a Green Paper describing in more detail its proposal for an Emission Reduction Fund (ERF), the principle component of its Direct Action climate policy. The ERF will sit alongside renewable energy and reforestation policies, but is designed to do the bulk of the heavy lifting as the Government looks for some 430 million tonnes of cumulative reductions (see below) over the period 2014 to 2020. The ERF will have initial funding of about AU$ 1.55 billion over the forward period, with the money being used to buy project reductions (as Australian Carbon Credit Units or ACCUs) from the agriculture and industrial sectors of the economy by reverse auction. These reductions will be similar to those that are created through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) available under the Kyoto Protocol.

 Australia Reduction Task to 2020

Although the fund and reverse auction process are discussed in some detail and appear as central to the policy framework, this may not be the case as the system is rolled out and the full framework developed. The issue that comes from such an approach to emissions reduction is that despite buying project reductions from the economy, the overall emissions pathway for the economy as a whole still does not follow the expected trajectory. The ERF may also encounter a number of issues seen with the CDM, all of which are some form of additionality;

  1. Determining if there would have been higher emissions had the project not happened. Perhaps the reduction is something that would have happened anyway or the counterfactual position of higher emissions would never have actually happened. For example, an energy efficiency gain is claimed in terms of a CO2 reduction but the efficiency gain is subject to some amount of rebound due to increased use of the more efficient service, therefore negating a real reduction in emissions. Further, the counterfactual of higher emissions might never have existed as the original less efficient process would not have operated at the higher level.
  2. Double counting – the project presumes a reduction that is already being counted by somebody else within the economy as a whole. For example, an energy efficiency gain in a certain part of the supply chain is claimed as an emissions reduction, but this is already intrinsic to the overall emissions outcome for another process.
  3. Rent seeking – project proponents seek government money for actions already underway or even construct an apparent reduction.

The Australian emissions inventory will be measured bottom up based on fuel consumption, changes in forest cover and land use and established estimates / protocols for agriculture, coal mine fugitive emissions, landfill etc. It will not be possible to simply subtract the ERF driven reductions from such a total unless they are separate sequestration based reductions, e.g. soil carbon. This is because the ERF reductions are themselves part of the overall emissions of the economy.

The Green Paper clearly recognizes theses issues and proposes that the overall emissions pathway through to 2020 must be safeguarded. In Section 4 it discusses the need for “An effectively designed framework to discourage emissions growth above historical levels . . . “, with associated terminology including phrases such as “covered entities”, “baseline emission levels”, “action required from businesses” and “compliance”.  The safeguarding mechanism, rather than being a supplementary element of Direct Action, could end up becoming the main policy measure for decarbonisation if significant CO2 reductions are not achieved under the ERF. While this may not be the objective that the Government seeks, it does mean that the implementation of the safeguard mechanism needs to incorporate the design thinking that would otherwise be applied to the development of intended emission trading systems, such as the Alberta Specified Gas Emitters Regulation.

As currently described, the safeguarding mechanism looks like a baseline-and-credit system, with the baseline established at facility level either on an intensity or absolute emissions basis (both are referred to in the Green Paper). Should a facility exceed the baseline it could still achieve compliance by purchasing ACCUs from the market, either from project developers or other facilities that have over performed against their own baselines. Although the Government have made it very clear that they will not be establishing a system such as cap-and-trade that collects revenue from the market, facilities will nevertheless face compliance obligations and may have to purchase reduction units at the prevailing market price.

The level of trade and the need for facilities to purchase ACCUs will of course depend on the stringency of the baselines and this remains to be seen, however in setting these the Government will need to be mindful of the overall national goal and its need to comply with that. The development of a full baseline and credit trading system also raises the prospect of the market out-bidding the Government for ACCUs, particularly if the Government sets its own benchmark price for purchase, as is indicated in the Green Paper.

As Australia moves from a cap-and trade system under the Carbon pricing Mechanism (CPM) to the ERF and its associated safeguarding mechanism, the main change for the economy will be distributional in nature, given that a 5% reduction must still be achieved and the same types of projects should eventually appear. However, the biggest challenge facing any system in Australia could be around speedy design and implementation, given that the time remaining before 2020 is now very limited and the emission reduction projects being encouraged will themselves take time to deliver.

What to make of 2013?

It’s difficult to sum up 2013 from a climate standpoint, other than to note that it was a year of contrast and just a little irony. Overall progress in actually dealing with the issue of global emissions made some minor gains, although there were a few setbacks of note along the way as well.

  • The IPCC released the climate science part of their 5th Assessment Report and that managed to keep the media interested for about a day, after which it was back to issues such as health care, economic growth, Euro-problems and assorted regional conflicts. Importantly, the report introduced into the mainstream the much more challenging model for global emissions, which recognizes that it is the long term accumulation that is important, rather than emissions in any particular year.
  • The global surface temperature trend remained stubbornly flat, despite every indication that the heat imbalance due to increasing amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere remains in place and therefore warming the atmosphere / ice / ocean system somewhere, although where exactly remained unclear. The lack of a clear short term trend became a key piece of evidence for those that argue there is no issue with changing the concentration of key components of the atmosphere, which further challenged the climate science community to provide some answers.
  • The UNFCCC continued to put a brave face on negotiations that are being seriously challenged for pace by most of the worlds declining glaciers while the world’s largest emitter, China, often thought of as blocking progress at the international level kicked off a number of carbon pricing trial systems in various parts of the country.
  • Australia elected a government that proudly announced on its first day in office that the carbon pricing system which was finally in place and operating after eight years of arguing would be dismantled, only to be confronted by the fact that the country sweltered under the hottest annual conditions ever recorded in that part of the world.
  • Several very unusual global weather extremes were reported, including what may be the most powerful ever storm to make landfall, yet there was a distinct lack of desire by scientists and commentators to attribute anything to the rising level of CO2 emissions in the atmosphere, except perhaps for the UNFCCC negotiator from the Philippines who went on a brief hunger strike in response to devastation that hit parts of his country.
  • The EU carbon price remained in the doldrums for the entire year, although did show a few signs of life as the Commission, Parliament and various Member States teased, tempted and taunted us with the prospect of action to correct the ETS and set it back on track. In the end, the “backloading” proposal was passed by the Parliament and will likely be adopted and implemented, but the test will be whether or not the Commission now has the backbone to propose and unconditionally support the necessary long term measures to see the ETS through to 2030 as the main driver of change.
  • For the first time that I had seen, a book was released that finally got to grips with the emissions issue, yet somewhat alarmingly failed to find any clear route out of the dilemma we collectively find ourselves in. “The Burning Question”, by Mike Berners-Lee and Duncan Clarke recognized how difficult the emissions challenge has become and questioned those who trivialize the issue by arguing that more renewable energy and better efficiency is all that is needed to solve the problem. Clearly a book for those who designed the hallway posters [Link] at COP19 in Warsaw to read. Closer to home, new Shell Scenarios released in March [Link] 2013 did chart a pathway out of the emissions corner that Mike and Duncan painted themselves into, but the much discussed 2°C wasn’t quite at the end of it.
  • The IEA put climate change back in the headlines of their World Energy Outlook, with a special supplement released in June outlining a number of critical steps that need to be taken to keep the 2°C door open. Unfortunately they hadn’t taken the time to read “The Burning Question” and consequently positioned enhanced energy efficiency as a key step to take over this decade.
  • In North America both the US and Canadian Federal governments continued to head towards a regulatory approach to managing emissions, while States and Provinces respectively continued to push for carbon pricing mechanisms. California and Quebec linked their cap and trade systems to create a first cross border link in the region.
  • The World Bank Partnership for Market Readiness continued its mission of preparing countries for carbon markets and carbon pricing, with numerous “works in progress” to show for the efforts put in to date. But the switch from early trials and learning by doing phases to robust carbon trading platforms underpinning vibrant markets remains elusive.

 These were all important steps, particularly those that tried to broaden or strengthen the role of carbon pricing. On that particular issue, 2013 saw both positive and negative developments, with progress best described as “baby steps” rather than anything substantial. With a change in the European Parliament, mid-term elections in the US and Australia in the process of unwinding, it is difficult to see where the big carbon pricing story in 2014 will come from. Perhaps the tinges of orange (see below) now beginning to appear in South America will flourish and green with COP20 being held in that region towards the end of the year.

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Linking discussions continue

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With the election of a new government in Australia and their promise to discontinue the “carbon tax”, the much discussed link between the Australian ETS and the EU ETS looks to be in doubt. As this is the highest profile example of bilateral linking, one might then think that the subject would die. Quite the contrary if you attended Carbon Forum North America last week, where linking continues to be a major preoccupation with carbon market aficionados.

The scene was set at CFNA when the Quebec Environment Minister used the conference to officially announce the link between cap-and-trade systems in California and Quebec. Although this has clearly been in the works for a while, the deal is now done. There were various other discussions about linking, but a particularly interesting panel session involved the World Bank where they tabled a completely new idea that could either be impossibly difficult to implement or could revolutionise the global carbon market – at this stage it is hard to assess which end of the spectrum we might be at. Nevertheless, it is an idea with real merit and worth thinking about or even piloting.

The World Bank takes the view that despite the best of intentions, market based emissions management systems (such as cap-and-trade or baseline-and-credit) will only rarely be close enough in design and underlying ambition to cleanly link and that as countries with existing bilateral links try to link with others (and therefore link the system that they are already linked with to another one by default), progress will grind to a standstill. Therefore, something else is needed. Their idea is to introduce a ratings system into the mix, with individual market based instruments being rated in a similar way to sovereign ratings by the likes of Standard and Poor’s.

For example, a tight cap-and-trade system with limited offset use and high ambition (i.e. a sharply declining cap) might have its allowances rated at 0.9 (like a national AAA  or AA+ rating), compared with a baseline-and-credit system with credits rated at 0.3 because such a system is not as environmentally tight due to its inherent intensity basis. Trade between the two would be possible, but three external credits would be needed for compliance instead of one internal allowance in the cap-and-trade system. Many different systems could then link without the need for perfect design alignment. Ratings applied in this way could solve the problem that the EU Commission has had with its on / off approach to CERs from the Clean Development Mechanism.

In the World Bank model the ratings would be handled by a private agency and the decision to use them would be a sovereign one, both by the country hosting a market based system that wishes to import other instruments for compliance and by any country that creates carbon instruments deciding that they can be exported for external use.

The World Bank proposed two other legs to a three part system, a settlement platform and an international carbon reserve. The latter would be a pool of carbon instruments that could be drawn on by any participating nation and would be created by a standardised contribution by all participants. This latter point is important in that if a nation’s carbon market compliance instrument is downgraded, they would need to contribute more of them to the pool to maintain the same standardised amount within it.

This idea was proposed as something that could commence today, outside the UNFCCC process. The alternative of waiting for some 190 countries to agree a common methodology when some don’t even recognise the idea of a market based approach has a high risk of failure (at least to the extent that it would deliver the infrastructure required for a global carbon market).

A lot of water will pass under the bridge before something like this gets going, but it was good to see new and original thinking in this area.

Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map

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The world is not on track to meet the target agreed by governments to limit the long term rise in the average global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius (°C).

International Energy Agency, June 2013

The International Energy Agency (IEA) is well known for its annual World Energy Outlook, released towards the end of each year. In concert with the WEO come one or more special publications and this year is no exception. Just released is a new report which brings the IEA attention back squarely on the climate issue, Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map. The IEA have traditionally focused on the climate issue through their 450 ppm scenario. While they continue to do that this time, they are also going further with a more pragmatic model for thinking about emissions, that being the “trillion tonne” approach. I have discussed this at some length in previous posts.

The report looks deeply into the current state of climate affairs and as a result fires a warning shot across the bows of current national and UNFCCC efforts to chart a pathway in keeping with the global goal of limiting warming to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. The IEA argue that we are on the edge of the 2 °C precipice and recommends a series of immediate steps to take to at least stop us falling in. With the catchy soundbite of “ 4 for 2° “, the IEA recommend four immediate steps in the period from now to 2020;

  1. Rapid improvements in energy efficiency, particularly for appliances, lighting, manufacturing machinery, road transport and within the built environment.
  2. Phasing out of older inefficient coal fired power stations and restricting less efficient new builds.
  3. Reductions in fugitive methane emissions in the oil and gas industry.
  4. Reductions in fossil fuel subsidies.

These will supposedly keep some hope of a 2°C outcome alive, although IEA makes it clear that much more has to be done in the 2020s and beyond. However, it didn’t go so far as to say that the 2° patient is dead, rather it is on life support.

I had some role in all this and you will find my name in the list of reviewers on page 4 of the report. I also attended a major workshop on the issue in March where I presented the findings of the Shell New Lens Scenarios and as a result advocated for the critical role that carbon capture and storage (CCS) must play in the solution set.

As a contributor, I have to say that I am a bit disappointed with the outcome of the report, although it is understandable how the IEA has arrived where it has. There just isn’t the political leadership available today to progress the things that really need to be done, so we fall back on things that sound about right and at least are broadly aligned with what is happening anyway. As a result, we end up with something of a lost opportunity and more worryingly support an existing political paradigm which doesn’t fully recognize the difficulty of the issue. By arguing that we can keep the door open to 2°C with no impact on GDP and by only doing things that are of immediate economic benefit, the report may even be setting up more problems for the future.

My concern starts with the focus on energy efficiency as the principal interim strategy for managing global emissions. Yes, improving energy efficiency is a good thing to do and cars and appliances should be built to minimize energy use, although always with a particular energy price trajectory in mind. But will this really reduce global emissions and more importantly will it make any difference by 2020?

My personal view on these questions is no. I don’t think actions to improve local energy efficiency can reduce global emissions, at least until global energy demand is saturated. Currently, there isn’t the faintest sign that we are even close to saturation point. There are still 1-2 billion people without any modern energy services and some 4 billion people looking to increase their energy use through the purchase of goods and services (e.g. mobility) to raise their standard of living. Maybe 1-1.5 billion people have reached demand saturation, but even they keep surprising us with new needs (e.g. Flickr now offers 1 TB of free storage for photographs). Improvements in efficiency in one location either results in a particular service becoming cheaper and typically more abundant or it just makes that same energy available to any of the 5 billion people mentioned above at a slightly lower price. Look at it the other way around, which oil wells, coal mines or gas production facilities are going to reduce output over the next seven years because the energy efficiency of air conditioners is further improved. The fossil fuel industry is very supply focused and with the exception of substantial short term blips (2008 financial crisis), just keeps producing. Over a longer timespan lower energy prices will change the investment portfolio and therefore eventual levels of production, but in the short term there is little chance of this happening. This is a central premise of the book I recently reviewedThe Burning Question.

Even exciting new technologies such as LED lighting may not actually reduce energy use, let alone emissions. Today, thanks to LEDs, it’s not just the inside of buildings where we see lights at night, but outside as well. Whole buildings now glow blue and red, lit with millions of LEDs that each use a fraction of the energy of their incandescent counterparts – or it would be a fraction if incandescent lights had even been used to illuminate cityscapes on the vast scale we see today. The sobering reality is that lighting efficiency has only ever resulted in more global use of lighting and more energy and more emissions, never less.

doha_skyline_560px

An analysis from Sandia National Laboratories in the USA looks at this phenomena and concludes;

The result of increases in luminous efficacy has been an increase in demand for energy used for lighting that nearly exactly offsets the efficiency gains—essentially a 100% rebound in energy use.

 I don’t think this is limited to just lighting. Similar effects have been observed in the transport sector. Even in the built environment, there is evidence that as efficiency measures improve home heating, average indoor temperatures rise rather than energy use simply falling.

The second recommendation focuses on older and less efficient coal fired power stations. In principle this is a good thing to do and at least starts to contribute to the emissions issue. This is actually happening in the USA and China today, but is it leading to lower emissions globally? In the USA national emissions are certainly falling as natural gas has helped push older coal fired power stations to close, but much of the coal that was being burnt is now being exported, to the extent that global emissions may not be falling. Similarly in China, older inefficient power stations are closing, but the same coal is going to newer plants where higher efficiency just means more electricity – not less emissions. I discussed the efficiency effect in power stations in an old posting, showing how under some scenarios increasing efficiency may lead to even higher emissions over the long term. For this recommendation to be truly effective, it needs to operate in tandem with a carbon price.

The third and fourth recommendations make good sense, although in both instances a number of efforts are already underway. In any case their contribution to the whole is much less than the first two. In the case of methane emissions, reductions now are really only of benefit if over the longer term CO2 emissions are also managed. If aggressive CO2 mitigation begins early, and is maintained until emissions are close to zero, comprehensive methane (and other Short Lived Climate Pollutants – SLCP) mitigation substantially reduces the long-term risk of exceeding 2˚C (even more for 1.5˚C). By contrast, if CO2 emissions continue to rise past 2050, the climate warming avoided by SLCP mitigation is quickly overshadowed by CO2-induced warming. Hence SLCP mitigation can complement aggressive CO2 mitigation, but it is neither equivalent to, nor a substitute for, near-term CO2 emission reductions (see Oxford Martin Policy Brief – The Science and Policy of Short Lived Climate Pollutants)

After many lengthy passages on the current bleak state of affairs with regards global emissions, the weak political response and the “4 for 2°C “ scenario, the report gets to a key finding for the post 2020 effort, that being the need for carbon capture and storage. Seventy seven pages into the document and it finally says;

In relative terms, the largest scale-up, post-2020, is needed for CCS, at seven times the level achieved in the 4-for-2 °C Scenario, or around 3 100 TWh in 2035, with installation in industrial facilities capturing close to 1.0 Gt CO2 in 2035.

Not surprisingly, I think this should have been much closer to page one (and I have heard from the London launch, which I wasn’t able to attend, that the IEA do a better job of promoting CCS in the presentation). As noted in the recently released Shell New lens Scenarios, CCS deployment is the key to resolving the climate issue over this century. We may use it on a very large scale as in Mountains or a more modest scale as in Oceans, but either way it has to come early and fast. For me this means that it needs to figure in the pre-2020 thinking, not with a view to massive deployment as it is just too late for that, but at least with a very focused drive on delivery of several large scale demonstration projects in the power sector. The IEA correctly note that there are none today (Page 77 – “there is no single commercial CCS application to date in the power sector or in energy-intensive industries”).

Of course large scale deployment of CCS from 2020 onwards will need a very robust policy framework (as noted in Box 2.4) and that will also take time to develop. Another key finding that didn’t make it to page one is instead at the bottom of page 79, where the IEA state that;

Framework development must begin as soon as possible to ensure that a lack of appropriate regulation does not slow deployment.

For those that just read the Executive Summary, the CCS story is rather lost. It does get a mention, but is vaguely linked to increased costs and protection of the corporate bottom line, particularly for coal companies. The real insight of its pivotal role in securing an outcome as close as possible to 2°C doesn’t appear.

So my own “ 2 for 2°C before 2020“ would be as follows;

  1. Demonstration of large-scale CCS in the power sector in key locations such as the EU, USA, China, Australia, South Africa and the Gulf States. Not all of these will be operational by 2020, but all should be well underway. At least one “very large scale” demonstration of CCS should also be underway (possibly at the large coal to liquids plants in South Africa).
  2. Development and adoption of a CCS deployment policy framework, with clear links coming from the international deal to be agreed in 2015 for implementation from 2020.

But that might take some political courage!

As Australia struggled through the ill fated CPRS legislation and finally landed with its carbon pricing mechanism, I often thought that it would be much simpler if they just joined the EU ETS. Governments don’t tend to do simple practical things like that, perhaps it makes them feel they are giving away some portion of national sovereignty or that they aren’t doing the job they were elected for (i.e. “we must invent it here” syndrome). But despite all this and having gone the very long way around to get there, Australia has, in effect now joined the EU ETS (or perhaps the ETS has joined the Australian trading system).

Last week the Australian Government and the European Commission announced that their respective emission trading systems would link up progressively over Phase III of the EU system, but for Australian entities from the start of full carbon allowance trading in 2015. This is a bold move by both parties and quite possibly one that will make others with nascent trading systems sit up and think about where they want to go. For Australia, provided the changes can be implemented by a parliament that isn’t exactly friendly towards carbon pricing (but a wafer thin majority currently is), the move cements the system into place even further, in that undoing it would likely cause some embarrassment on the international stage. For the EU, it puts the ETS back in the frame and maybe introduces some additional demand at a time of allowance oversupply, depressed prices and a consequent lack of confidence in the system. Let’s hope this move helps both sides to deliver confidence and stability in their respective systems.

A full two-way link between the two cap and trade systems will start no later than 1 July 2018. Under this arrangement businesses will be able to use carbon units from the Australian emissions trading scheme or the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) for compliance under either system. To facilitate linking, the Australian government will make two changes to the design of the Australian carbon price:

  • The price floor will not be implemented;
  • A new sub-limit will apply to the use of eligible Kyoto units. While liable entities in Australia will still be able to meet up to 50% of their liabilities through purchasing eligible international units, only 12.5% of their liabilities will be able to be met by Kyoto units.

In recognition of these changes and while formal negotiations proceed towards a full two-way link, an interim link will be established enabling Australian businesses to use EU allowances to help meet liabilities under the Australian emissions trading scheme from 1 July 2015 until the full link is established.

Various Australian, EU and other websites cover all the details, so I won’t repeat them here. Rather, let me spend some time on a key issue that this move raises, namely the future design of any international framework via the UNFCCC (or other process). Both Australia and the EU have stressed that this is a bilateral linkage, to the extent that the allowance transactions will not be processed through the International Transaction Log (ITL), but CER transactions will be. However, there will still be a Kyoto AAU balancing at various times to ensure compliance in that system (although there remains considerable uncertainty with regards the issuance of Kyoto Second Period AAUs as there has been no firm agreement on the full nature of that period).

Despite this apparent distancing from the Kyoto based ITL, it must still be the case that the overarching Kyoto framework has helped this linkage – I might even go a step further here and say “allowed this linkage to happen”. Thanks to the UNFCCC architecture, these two systems grew up with enough harmony to make a linkage possible.  They “count” the same way, “track” the same way and “comply” the same way.  Both the systems have common offset arrangements through CERs under the Kyoto Clean Development Mechanism and the units created under the Australian Carbon Farming Initiative are also Kyoto compliant. This means we have the makings of a linked system with global reach.

This could be the primary goal of a new international framework, i.e. to provide sufficient tools, rules and mechanisms which countries can use in developing their carbon trading systems, thus facilitating linkage at a convenient time for those interested in doing so. Such a linkage framework could deliver the global market that we need, as shown in my illustration below (which by the way has been around for about 5-6 years now, so for me it is great to see that one of my linkage lines has finally been filled in!!).

The opportunity to devise such a framework now exists under the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, which aims to see a new international agreement in place by 2015, for commencement not later than 2020. The agreement between Australia and the EU should be seen as a catalyst for the thinking behind what is to come.

Finally, as something of an aside, one of the major complaints by Australian companies has been that the current $23 fixed price and the future market floor price put the Australian price of carbon “out of line with the international price”. I challenged this notion in a recent post, but irrespective those who called for such alignment have pretty much got what they wanted, although obviously not in the very short term. There may be eventual irony in this, should the EU system go through something of a recovery in its fortunes. While every indicator today points to a continued depressed price through to Phase IV, stranger things have happened in commodity markets.

P.S. I still think that the simplest approach for Canada, which has been putting off economy wide carbon pricing legislation for years, would be to join the EU ETS.

Next week the carbon pricing mechanism gets going in Australia, starting at a fixed price of AU$23 per tonne of CO2 in the first year, but later on shifting to a full cap-and-trade (probably around 2015). Early on the system will behave more like a carbon tax, in that the government will make available as many allowances as are required at the fixed price, but the infrastructure for the market based system will begin to appear, i.e. allowances, registries, compliance by surrender of allowances etc. A full description of how the Australian Carbon Unit works (the allowance) can be found here.

Apart from the side issue (although not so for some) as to whether Australia should be acting to reduce emissions, the debate has now shifted to whether or not the selected price of $23 is the right one. Many argue that as the “prevailing global price” of carbon is much lower, then Australia is out of step and therefore undermining its own competitiveness. The call seems to be for a price closer to $10, rather than $23.

The problem with this argument is that there is no prevailing global carbon price. Rather there are pockets of carbon pricing in many different jurisdictions. The largest of course is the EU, where the price is currently €8, low by historical standards. But this is a market responsive mechanism and has traded as high as €30 back in 2008 to €6 very recently. In Australian dollar terms, the high coincided with an exchange rate of $2 per €, so the price briefly touched AU$60. The average cost of compliance for Phase II of the ETS (i.e. 2008-2012), assuming purchasing throughout, has been very close to €17. The average exchange rate over the same period has been about 1.5 $/€, so that cost in Australian dollar terms is $25.50. As little as a year ago the ETS price was €15 at an exchange rate of 1.35, or just over AU$20, but the move down started shortly after that. There is something of an upward trend underway at the moment, perhaps in response to moves by the European Commission to support the market through backloading or a set aside of allowances. A look at the forward prices for EU allowances shows a 2020 contract at about €11-12 per tonne of CO2.

Other jurisdictions show variability as well, but in a different way. Canada does not have a Federal carbon pricing scheme, but provinces are beginning to act. Resource heavy Alberta has had a baseline and credit system up and running for a few years now which imposes a carbon price of CAN$15 per tonne on industrial emitters. British Columbia has had a carbon tax in place for some time, which is currently at CAN$25 per tonne, but rising this year to $30. This is about the same in Australian dollars.

The USA currently has two carbon pricing systems, the cap-and-trade system due to start in California in 2013 and the existing RGGI system in the North East States. California allowances currently trade at around US$16-17 (so about the same in Australian Dollars), but the RGGI price has always been relatively low, trading between $2-$4 since 2008. What is not apparent in the USA is the underlying implied CO2 price that will result from the regulatory approach through the Clean Air Act.

A variety of other carbon prices also exist around the world. The UK is introducing a domestic carbon price floor in the electricity sector, initially at £15.70 per tonne of CO2, or about AU$23.55 (at an exchange rate of 1.5 AU$/£). Norway has had a carbon tax in operation since 1991, with the price varying by sector. The average price is about AU$22 per tonne of CO2. In Sweden it is even higher, with the price around $AU100 per tonne of CO2. Switzerland has had a carbon tax in operation from 2008. The current price is up to CHF 36 per tonne, or about AU$37 per tonne.

Finally, there is the one price that could be argued to be global, which is the price of CERs in the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism. This is currently very low (€4) due to lack of demand from its one main market, the EU ETS.

The price being imposed in Australia is the decision of the government and has been reached on the basis of some objective that it wants to meet. Whether or not this is “right” in terms of emission reductions remains to be seen, but the argument that Australia is “out of line” with the rest of the world is questionable at best. The rest of the world is all over the place, with carbon prices ranging from just a few dollars to over one hundred Australian dollars. On that basis, the Australian price is probably about “right” in terms of starting the system, giving it some grit and getting everybody going. Full cap-and-trade isn’t far off with allowance auctions due to begin as early as 2014, after which a floating price will prevail.

This week in Australia the carbon pricing mechanism (no, it isn’t a tax, despite some similarities) is back in the news as the government releases it’s budget for the coming fiscal period. The fixed price period of $23 per tonne (and rising) represents a significant new source of income for the government, although when the mechanism was announced so too were a number of cost offset measures for the consumer and trade exposed industries. As such, the system is largely revenue neutral, but this has done little to quell the noisy opposition to the policy package. On Wednesday, the day after the Budget was released, many newspapers again raised the issue of increasing prices related to the carbon pricing scheme and therefore falling living standards, despite statements by the government over recent months that the system recycles its revenue back through the economy. Unfortunately, public perception appears to be on the side of those who argue that this is a new and unnecessary cost burden.

This isn’t the only negative view that the public have of climate change policy. The other is that energy austerity is the mechanism we must adopt to reduce emissions. The source of this is many and various, including the government itself, some NGOs and even a few business organisations. “Turn out the lights to save the planet” has become a common rallying cry and is amplified by campaigns such as Earth Hour which calls for cities to be blacked out for one hour a year to highlight the issue of energy use and climate change.

So the public are left with the view that energy austerity and extra cost are the two routes to follow if climate change is to be robustly addressed. Little wonder it is an uphill battle gaining political traction on this issue. Perhaps some new and more accurate messaging should be formulated to help sell the need for policy action.

The energy austerity issue is one that can and should be tackled. Reducing energy use and improving energy efficiency are both good things to do, but should be advocated for on the basis of managing energy costs, not attempting to address climate change. For reasons discussed in an earlier posting, local energy austerity may not even be an effective emissions reduction strategy at all. At issue with energy is the emissions from our current sources, not necessarily how much we use. After all, energy availability is almost unlimited, it’s just harnessing it economically that is the challenge.

The austerity message has its roots in various social agendas, but has kept into the environmental agenda as well. It is easy to see why this has happened, given the clear link between ecosystem welfare and overuse (e.g. logging in tropical rain forests), but for the climate change debate this particular approach may not be helping the issue at all.

The climate change issue needs to return to its roots, which is managing, reducing and ultimately eliminating anthropogenic CO2 emissions. This is done by changing the primary energy mix, implementing upstream CCS and shifting final energy use in homes and transport (where emissions are very to capture) to carriers such as electricity, hydrogen and bio.

Such a change won’t come at no cost, but elements of it can be conveyed to the public more easily. For example, running a home entirely on electricity is very doable today, both in hot and cold climates. The option of electric, hydrogen fuel cell or bio mobility is also becoming a reality – and potentially an attractive one as oil prices remain in the realms of $100 per barrel. These are very different value propositions to the austerity message.

The emphasis then shifts to the upstream and the use of renewable energy in the electricity sector together with technologies such as CCS in combination with natural gas. Here costs can be managed and change implemented over time as the grid is renewed and expanded. This can be achieved through carbon pricing, either directly in a cap and trade system or indirectly through emission performance standards. Although the scale of change is less, over the last thirty years many countries have managed to almost eliminate sulphur emissions from both the electricity and transport sectors and have done so without great public rancour. Costs have dropped and the job has just been done.

Getting the message right is essential if we want to make progress on this issue. Pedalling austerity and high cost is neither helpful or even correct.

Is the first offer the best?

Energy policy development over the last decade has shown one thing for certain, governments the world over are persistent in their desire to alter the energy mix and/or at least begin to manage emissions. Whether this is purely for environmental reasons or for concerns about energy security or perhaps for long term fiscal security almost doesn’t seem to matter, energy policy development and emissions management continues to be a high priority. This then opens up the question as to how business should best respond to this trend and what role it should play?

Recent developments in Australia present a useful case study. When the CPRS (Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme – a national cap-and-trade system) was proposed in 2008, an unintended coalition of certain business interests, the Federal Opposition and Green Party opponents eventually managed to see the bill fail. Many businesses actually supported the bill at the time, but seemingly the planets were not suitably aligned for passage. Had things been different, Australia would now have been in the late implementation phase of a relatively benign approach to managing emissions with a carbon price very likely around AU$10 per tonne, trading on the back of the global price for a Certified Emission Reduction (the UNFCCC offset mechanism) and its link to the EU ETS. Instead, events have resulted in a very different outcome. A fixed carbon price of $23 per tonne will be implemented from July, albeit transitioning to a market related price in a few years time. Recent media reports tell of a heated national debate now underway, with many arguing that the price is out of line with the “prevailing global price” and therefore leaving Australia competitively exposed. Not surprisingly, those that first opposed the CPRS and those concerned about the current price are in many cases, one in the same. The first offer in the form of the CPRS was arguably the better deal, yet it was turned down.

At least two offers have been made in the USA. In 2001 the Bush Administration offered a science and technology based approach which has delivered some results, but given a general lack of enthusiasm for implementation by the NGO community in particular with some business groups as unintended allies, the initiative failed in key areas such as the development of carbon capture and storage. Had real progress been made, rollout of the technology might have been underway today. Eight years later the second offer came from the Obama Administration in the form of a national cap-and-trade approach in combination with technology incentives, but this was also declined. Both of these were also relatively benign, the first because it represented an early start and would had been largely government funded and the second because the overall structure of the deal offered significant competitive protection for key industries and included both a long lead time for implementation and a soft start. The Clean Air Act offer now on the table appears to be the least palatable of all these and could well prove to be less effective in terms of actually reducing emissions. Given that it will require specific actions of large emitters, the implied carbon price for some facilities may be very high. In addition, the approach will address individual sources but may not result in a real reduction of national emissions because no overall cap will be in place.

Canada has also followed a fairly tortuous path in recent years. No substantive national programme to manage emissions has emerged, yet various forms of market based policy have been tested and rejected. Although carbon pricing mechanisms now exist in some provinces, a national standards based regulatory approach may well emerge, keeping pace with the Clean Air Act developments now underway in the USA. This is bound to be more complex and almost certainly more costly for business than the cap-and-trade approach that was first proposed back in about 2003. In 2005 a North American cap-and-trade approach was even studied by a combined EPA / Environment Canada Task Force.

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 The increasing number of standards based or fixed price approaches that are now “on offer”, bring into question the wisdom of defeating “cap-and-trade”. The latter offers compliance flexibility through offset mechanisms, banking and limited borrowing, competition protection through free allocation in the early phases of implementation and even technology incentives through constructions such as the NER300 in the EU-ETS. By contrast, a standard has limited flexibility, no price transparency and potentially onerous penalties. This would appear to represent something of an “own goal”.

The EU faces a related issue today. Despite some initial grumbling, businesses in Europe actually accepted the first offer of the EU ETS (cap and trade). But its effectiveness has slowly eroded over time. This is partly due to the recession but there is also a policy design cause arising from the superimposition of multiple layers of policy, such as specific renewable energy targets, nuclear build rates, efficiency mandates and more. These policies are well meaning but often misaligned. As the ETS has weakened, this process has accelerated therefore compounding the problem. The business community is split over what to do about this with various proposals involving the set aside of allowances favoured by some, but others arguing that the system is naturally responding to events and should be left to find its own way. The problem with the latter position is that it could result in an ETS that becomes politically and economically irrelevant, leaving a standards based approach as the way forward in Europe as well. Another “own goal” in the making!

A carbon price for Australia – finally!

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Depending on your take on events the toll has been as high as two Prime Ministers and one Leader of the Opposition, but Australia now has a carbon pricing mechanism operating in the economy (I say “now” in that even though it doesn’t formally start until July, the price exposure for companies was there the instant the law was officially passed). There does remain some uncertainty given the “blood oath” made by the current Opposition Leader to repeal the law, but at least for now the business playing field in Australia has changed.

The mechanism starts next July and is structured such that it transitions to an emissions trading system a few years later. This means that from the outset the approach is allowance based, with the government selling allowances at AU$23 per tonne of CO2 and then the same allowances being returned to government for emissions compliance. Somewhere around 2015 this will change in that the number of allowances available for distribution will be capped and banking of allowances, together with an opportunity to use offsets, will be allowed.

Australia has followed a near text-book approach to implementation as it has decided to recycle the funds collected directly back to consumers affected by the carbon price in the form of tax changes, with a bias towards those on lower incomes. Trade exposed industries will also see a direct recycle back, thus minimising the change in their international competitive positioning. The approach adopted by the government follows the cycle discussed in the WBCSD publication Carbon Pricing released earlier this year.

 The goal of a carbon price is to create a change in the economy such that the market begins to differentiate between goods and services on the basis of their carbon footprint.

In its generic realization, the carbon price, initially experienced by the emitter or fuel provider (e.g. by paying a tax, purchasing allowances from the government or implementing a required project), is passed through to the consumers of the product. The result is a change in the relative cost of most goods and services based on their carbon footprint, and the emergence of a new cost ranking within the economy. This will influence the purchasing decisions of consumers.

Products with a high carbon footprint will be less competitive, either forcing their removal from the market, or driving manufacturers to invest in projects to lower the footprint. Any revenue raised by the government from carbon pricing, will be typically directed to the treasury as part of the overall national budget process. It should be used efficiently; for example, to offset any net change in costs to the consumer by reducing taxes.

A transparent pass-through of operating costs to the consumer is an important feature of any market. It allows the manufacturer to adjust the sales price to maintain profitability, as new costs enter a process, or existing costs change. An increase in the sales price could only occur to the extent that the market allows the change to take place, due to competition from manufacturers with a different cost structure that may limit the potential for cost pass-through. This gives rise to one of the principal challenges of introducing carbon pricing into an economy.

Carbon pricing is being introduced piecemeal throughout the world. Some manufacturers incur the cost of carbon, while others do not, although they may be competing in the same market. A manufacturer incurring the cost of carbon is penalized, as the market price is set by a lower cost provider without the carbon price. This can result in “carbon leakage”, where a higher cost manufacturer struggles to compete, and market share is gained by a producer not subject to the carbon price. Consequently, the environmental integrity of the approach can be undermined and economic distortions introduced. A global carbon price is therefore important in order to gain a level playing field. Another challenge arises in heavily regulated markets where the producer may not be able to raise prices, and therefore cannot recover the carbon cost.

The design of a carbon pricing policy must recognize these issues.

Back in February when all this started, an observer might have thought that the economic roof had caved in.

But despite the difficult politics that have surrounded the proposal (now law), the government should be applauded for persisting. Regearing the economy and creating a different set of winners (and losers) somewhere down the road is not an easy task, but it has to be done.A command and control policy set which might appear as an alternative is both more expensive for consumers and far less flexible for business.

I happen to be in South Africa this week and a similar set of proposals is under discussion, although more likely implemented as a straight carbon tax. Australia and South Africa are similar in many respects – both are heavily dependent on coal and both are major resource based economies. South Africa will need to be even more thoughtful than Australia regarding recycle back into the economy, given the different income distribution in this country and the pressing need of access to electricity for all the population, but the principles which guide them should be the same. There is also the additional complication of having a state run monopoly providing electricity to the country, but even that is starting to change as the government looks at the introduction of independent renewable energy suppliers. As was the case in Australia, the battle lines are being drawn, at least according to the Cape Times today.

That part of the global economy exposed to a direct carbon price remains small, but it is rising and Australia is an important step, as will be South Africa. So far this isn’t enough to change the terms of the global energy mix, but it is having regional impacts. A similar move in China and / or the USA would change all that though.