Archive for the ‘Emissions Trading’ Category

Did the UN Summit shift the dial?

The UN Climate Summit has come and gone and leaders from many countries have made announcements, pledges or at least offered moral support. But are we any better off as a result? Reflecting on the last few days of meetings, events, panels and speeches in New York, I would have to argue for the “yes” case. As such, it contributes another piece to the Paris jigsaw.

UN Climate Summit Jigsaw

Although nothing that was formally pledged or offered is likely to make a tangible difference to global emissions in the medium term, one subject has resurfaced in a major way that can: carbon pricing. While there was still a focus on efficiency and renewable energy at many events, the need to implement policy to put a price on carbon dioxide emissions came through loud and clear. In recent months this has been led by the World Bank and they were able to announce in New York that 73 countries and some 1000 companies have signed their Statement, Putting a Price on Carbon, which is an extraordinary result for just a few months of concerted effort.

Given that this was a UN event rather than a national event, the focus naturally shifted to the global story, with an emphasis on how the Paris 2015 agreement might accelerate the shift to carbon pricing and a carbon market that operated globally. The International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) held a number of events around the city outlining its ideas on how this might happen.

Its kickoff was an event on Monday afternoon, the day before the Summit, where a team led by Professor Rob Stavins of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University presented new work on linking various carbon emission mitigation approaches. The work suggests that such linkage could be the foundation mechanism behind a globally networked carbon market and can be found in summary here. It illustrates how even quite different approaches to mitigation might link and then deliver the economic benefits associated with a larger more liquid market.

But if this approach is to be adopted, the big question that would still need to be addressed is how the Paris agreement might actually facilitate it. IETA offered some thinking on is, with an outline proposal that even included some basic treaty text to enable such a process. Given that the 2015 agreement will almost certainly be structured around INDCs, or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, the text proposal needed to embrace this concept and work with it, rather than attempting to impose a carbon price or carbon market structure by diktat. The basic reason for trading in a market is to exchange goods or services and optimise revenue and / or lower costs as a result, so the text simply suggested that parties (nations) could be offered the ability to exchange and transfer mitigation effort (INDCs) should they (or companies within their economies) wish to do so, but requires that it be recorded in some form of carbon reduction unit. The proposal by IETA is as follows;

Cooperation between Parties in realizing their Contribution

  1. Parties may voluntarily cooperate in achieving their mitigation contributions.
  2. A unified international transfer system is hereby established.

a.  A Party may transfer portions of its defined national contribution to one or more other Parties through carbon units of its choice.
b.  Transfers and receipts of units shall be recorded in equivalent carbon reduction terms.

There could be many variations on this theme, but the idea is to establish the ability to trade and require a carbon unit accounting of it if and when it takes place. Of course many COP decisions will be required in years to come to fully flush this out.

What was interesting about this proposal was the reaction it got from those closer to the negotiating process. Rather than simply acknowledging it, one meeting in New York saw several people debating the wording as if the formal negotiation was underway. I understand that this was exactly the reaction IETA were looking for and hopefully it bodes well for the development of market mechanisms within the Paris outcome.

There were of course other themes running through the various events. The new business coalition, We Mean Business, was actively marketing its new report which attempts to make the case that emission reduction strategies in the business sector can deliver returns on investment approaching 30%. This is a rather misleading claim in that it is primarily focussing on efficiency improvements in certain sectors, which of course factors in the local cost of energy, but particularly electricity. There is no doubt that reducing electricity consumption can lead to improved competitiveness and growth, hence a very attractive ROI, but this is very different to a real reduction in emissions that actually delivers benefits globally. This is a major theme of my recent book. The problem with such claims is that they shift attention away from the much more difficult task of actually reducing emissions to the extent that cumulative atmospheric carbon dioxide is impacted; such reductions require real heavy lifting as delivered through the use of carbon capture and storage.

Overall, It was an interesting week, framed by 300,000 demonstrators on Sunday and a plethora of world leaders speaking at the UN on Tuesday. Just maybe, this was the start of something meaningful.

With the USA (at a Federal level) going down the regulatory route instead, the Australian Prime Minister touring the world arguing against it and the UNFCCC struggling to talk about it, perhaps it is time to revisit the case for carbon pricing. Economists have argued the case for carbon pricing for over two decades and in a recent post I put forward my own reasons why the climate issue doesn’t get solved without one. Remember this;

Climate formula with carbon price (words)

Yet the policy world seems to be struggling to implement carbon pricing and more importantly, getting it to stick and remain effective. Part of the reason for this is a concern by business that it will somehow penalize them, prejudice them competitively or distort their markets. Of course there will be an impact, that’s the whole point, but nevertheless the business community should still embrace this approach to dealing with emissions. Here are the top ten reasons why;

Top Ten

  1. Action on climate in some form or other is an inconvenient but unavoidable inevitability. Business and  industry doesn’t really want direct, standards based regulation. These can be difficult to deal with, offer limited flexibility for compliance and may be very costly to implement for some legacy facilities.
  2. Carbon pricing, either through taxation or cap and trade offers broad compliance flexibility and provides the option for particular facilities to avoid the need for immediate capital investment (but still comply with the requirement).
  3. Carbon pricing offers technology neutrality. Business and industry is free to choose its path forward rather than being forced down a particular route or having market share removed by decree.
  4. Pricing systems offer the government flexibility to address issues such as cross border competition and carbon leakage (e.g. tax rebates or free allocation of allowances). There is a good history around this issue in the EU, with trade exposed industries receiving a large proportion of their allocation for free.
  5. Carbon pricing is transparent and can be passed through the supply chain, either up to the resource holder or down to the end user.
  6. A well implemented carbon pricing system ensures even (economic) distribution of the mitigation burden across the economy. This is important and often forgotten. Regulatory approaches are typically opaque when it comes to the cost of implementation, such that the burden on a particular sector may be far greater than initially recognized. A carbon trading system avoids such distortions by allowing a particular sector to buy allowances instead of taking expensive (for them) mitigation actions.
  7. Carbon pricing offers the lowest cost pathway for compliance across the economy, which also minimizes the burden on industry.
  8. Carbon pricing allows the fossil fuel industry to develop carbon capture and storage, a societal “must have” over the longer term if the climate issue is going to be fully resolved. Further, as the carbon pricing system is bringing in new revenue to government (e.g. through the sale of allowances), the opportunity exists to utilize this to support the early stage development of technologies such as CCS.
  9. Carbon pricing encourages fuel switching in the power sector in particular, initially from coal to natural gas, but then to zero carbon alternatives such as wind, solar and nuclear.
  10. And the most important reason;

It’s the smart business based approach to a really tough problem and actually delivers on the environmental objective.

Steps towards Paris 2015

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National climate negotiators and a number of Energy/Environment Ministers are currently meeting in Bonn as the global climate deal process slowly edges forward. Whether the steps being taken are big or small remains to be seen, but there are at least steps, so that is a start. The most well publicized have been those of the United States and China who are both active domestically with action on emissions. In the case of the USA this is the EPA rules that gained heavy media coverage and for China it is the notion that they will peak their coal use at some point in the reasonable future, perhaps as early as 2020. The idea of peak coal in China is also starting to appear in government conversations and is not just something emanating from the Chinese academic community.

But another step was also taken in Bonn last week when Ministers were in town as part of an ADP Dialogue; a new business coalition reared its head. Called “We Mean Business”, this is a coalition of a number of existing business linked organizations and has been established to demonstrate to government that a broad business base sees the need for action on climate change and is prepared to support their actions in creating the necessary policy frameworks under which emissions can then be reduced. “We Mean “Business” has started life with seven supporting organizations;

We Mean Business
The question that needs to be answered is how important is this and can such a group exert any influence over the process at all. Looking back, one parallel that comes to mind is USCAP (Unites States Climate Action Partnership), a group of some 25 companies and NGOs that coalesced around the 2007-2009 US process to implement climate legislation, but most notably a cap-and-trade bill. This was a detailed federal legislative process and USCAP certainly got into the weeds of it, with a comprehensive manifesto of requirements. When the Waxman-Markey Bill did eventually pass through the House there were many elements within it that aligned with the USCAP manifesto, so arguably that organization did have some influence on content. More importantly perhaps, the very existence of USCAP helped create the political space in which comprehensive legislation could be considered, even though the process eventually stalled and ultimately failed in the US Senate.

But Waxman-Markey was a specific piece of national legislation; at the international level the process is more complex. While a cap-and-trade system is a very tangible policy outcome with a set of well understood rules and metrics, the likely outcome from Paris may be far less defined. One aspect that is common to both is the need for political space in which to act. While the majority of this will come from the Parties themselves, business can play a role here. However, such a business coalition will have to act at both national and international levels to be truly effective, in that delegations are most likely given a certain negotiating mandate within which they can operate before they leave for the COP. As such, simply showing that business supports the process at the international level will probably not be enough.

The second area for business advocacy comes in terms of content. This is more difficult in that the business coalition will be made up of a broad range of constituents acting in many different sectors of the economy. While a cap-and-trade system may be ideal for one company in a given sector in a particular country, another company might prefer financial incentives to help it develop a particular technology. Further, the nature of the international agreement won’t include specifics such as cap-and-trade, but will be much more about the process of establishing suitable national contributions and commitments. However, a business coalition could at least ask for some basic building blocks to be included, such as the use of market instruments and the ability to transfer some or all of a national contribution between Parties , both necessary precursors to the longer term development of a global carbon market.

It is early days for “We Mean Business”, but it at least exists and is starting to mobilize resources and interest. But the hard work hasn’t started; what it will actually do and how it might positively influence the process and eventual outcome is for the days and months ahead.

For a country that has been so polarised on the climate issue and has struggled to make progress implementing effective mitigation policy, it is surprising how often the subject appears on the front pages of the national newspapers. I am in Australia for a couple of weeks visiting friends and relatives and seemingly on cue the carbon issue is front and centre of The Australian [$$] on the day I arrive. A previous visit timed itself perfectly with the announcement by then Prime Minister Julia Gillard that the country would have a carbon tax (now in the process of being repealed).

This time, the story headline is “Heartache as carbon credits turn to debt” and it discusses the challenge that one particular farmer is having banking his soil carbon credits. This may sound a bit obscure for the front page of a national daily, but such is the issue in Australia that a story like this becomes national news. Soil carbon is now at the heart of the national mitigation effort, with the government implementing an Emission Reduction Fund to encourage farmers to change their tilling, land management and crop growing practices to build up carbon in the soil. The increase in soil carbon can be converted to carbon credits and sold to the government.

EC11127_Fa

In the case of the farmer in this story, the stored carbon on his property and its potential for credit issuance is not being recognised as an asset by his bank and therefore his farm is under threat due to debt issues (unrelated to the credits). The problem the bank has is that under the current rules soil carbon credit issuance requires a guarantee of permanence that stretches out 100 years. This in turn ties up the land for that period, which potentially impacts on the bank should it end up with the property due to mortgage default.

There are plans by the current government to change the permanence requirement to 25 years, which may help solve the problem above and others like it, but in turn raises a new problem related to the mitigation potential of soil carbon. The point about carbon sequestration, whether it be via CCS, reforestation, soil carbon buildup or other means is that it should be permanent because of the cumulative nature of carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Simply reducing the flow of carbon to the atmosphere in a given year isn’t good enough if that same carbon eventually makes its way into the atmosphere later on.

While a 100 year permanence requirement doesn’t guarantee true sequestration either, it does at least shift any future release of that carbon into a time when the energy system should have substantially changed and other anthropogenic emissions are therefore much lower or even approaching zero. This can’t be said for a 25 year requirement. In such a relatively short space of time the energy system will still look largely as it does today, even if big change is underway. We need to be able to store carbon well beyond the fossil era or ensure that permanence actually means permanent.

With soil carbon now so important to Australia, these and other issues related to its implementation and most importantly, effectiveness and therefore recognition internationally are bound to continue to make news. While resource development is now the primary generator of national wealth, the country is nevertheless turning again to its rural sector to make ends meet.

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.

The US Submission on Elements of the 2015 Agreement has recently appeared on the UNFCCC website and outlines, in some detail, the approach the US is now seeking with regards “contributions”. Adaptation and Finance are also covered, although not to the depth of the section on Mitigation.

The submission makes it very clear that the US expects robust contributions from Parties, with schedules, transparency, reporting and review. There is also a useful discussion on the legal nature of a contribution. None of this is surprising as the US delegation to the recent COPs and various inter-sessional meetings has made it very clear that real action must be seen from all parties, not just those in developed countries.

But the submission makes no reference to the role of carbon markets or carbon pricing. Only in two locations does it even refer to market mechanisms and this is only in the context of avoiding double counting. This is coming from the Party that gave the world the carbon market underpinning of the Kyoto Protocol, which in turn has given rise to the CDM, the EU ETS, the CPM (in Australia) and the NZ ETS to name but a few, so perhaps reflects the current difficulty Parties are having keeping carbon price thinking on the negotiating agenda. 

I would argue that without a price on carbon emissions, the CO2 emissions issue will be much more difficult to fully resolve. Further to this, while individual countries may pursue such an agenda locally, the emissions leakage from such systems could remain high until the carbon price permeates much of the global energy system. This then argues for an international agreement that encourages the implementation of carbon pricing at a national level. The Kyoto Protocol did this through the Assigned Amount Unit, which gave value to carbon emissions as a property right. While there is no such “Kyoto like” design under consideration for the post 2020 period, the agreement we are looking for should at least lay the foundations for such markets in the future. The question is, how??

In the post 2020 world, carbon pricing is going to have to start at the national level, rather than be cascaded from the top down. Many nations are pursuing such an agenda, including a number of emerging economies such as China, South Korea, South Africa and Kazakhstan. Linkage of these carbon price regimes is seen as the key to expansion, which in turn encourages others to follow similar policy pathways and join the linked club. The reason this is done is not simply to have carbon price homogeneity, but to allow the transfer of emission reduction obligations to other parties such that they can be delivered more cost effectively. This allows one of two things to happen; the same reductions but at lower cost or greater reductions for the expected cost. The latter should ideally be the goal and is apparently the aspiration the USA has, given it states that the agreement should be “designed to promote ambitious efforts by a broad range of Parties.” The carbon price is simply a proxy for this process to allow terms of trade to be agreed as a reduction obligation is transferred.

All of this implies that the post 2020 agreement at least needs a placeholder of some description; to allow the transfer of reductions to take place between parties yet still have them counted against the national contribution. As it stands today, it is looking unlikely that explicit reference to carbon pricing or carbon markets will make its way into the agreement, but perhaps it doesn’t need to at this stage. On the back of a transfer mechanism, ambition could increase and a pricing regime for transfers could potentially evolve. If that happens to look like a global carbon market in the end, then so be it.

The EU ETS isn’t out of trouble just yet

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On January 22nd the EU Commission launched its White Paper which lays out the major components of its energy and climate policy through to 2030. This is the first major step in what could well be a lengthy debate and parliamentary process before a new package of measures is finally agreed. The Commission has proposed a 40% EU wide greenhouse gas reduction target for the year 2030, an EU wide target of 27% renewable energy by the same year and a supply side mechanism to adjust the overall number of allowances in circulation within the EU ETS.

The latter component is clear recognition by the Commission that the ETS has been awash in allowances for some time now and with a price of just a few Euros is doing nothing to drive emissions management across the EU. There are multiple reasons for the situation the ETS currently finds itself in, but one major contributor has been overall energy policy design in the EU. This has imposed renewable energy targets to the extent that further emission reductions under the ETS are not required once the former have been met. Hence the near zero CO2 price. There are two parts to this particular story – the first is the overall level of the renewable energy target and the second is the reality that transport (oil) and commercial / residential (natural gas) sectors hardly contribute to this, so it forces a much higher renewable energy penetration in the power sector, which is under the ETS.

But with a 2030 reduction target of 40% and a new renewable energy goal of 27%, is the problem now remedied?

This of course depends on how the renewable energy target is met. Importantly, it will not be imposed on Member States as it was in the period to 2020, but is only binding at EU level. This could mean that the Commission expects to be at 27% renewables based on the impact of policies such as the ETS, rather than requiring that Member States guarantee a certain level of renewable energy use and therefore effectively forcing them to enact policies to deliver such goals. But many Member States are likely to continue their support of renewable energy and may force it into the overall energy mix right through to 2030.

The worst case outcome for the ETS would be one that sees the whole 27% renewable energy goal met with explicit policies at Member State level. The chart below shows this – note that this is a simple model of the EU for illustrative purposes. Assume that at the end of 2012 EU power generation and industry sector emissions are at 2000 million tonnes CO2. By 2020, with a 1.74% annual reduction under the ETS, they need to be at ~1730 million tonnes. But with renewable energy being forced into the power generation system (although not quite reaching the 20% across the EU) and the EU easily meeting its overall 20% CO2 goal, sector emissions are below the ETS cap, which implies nothing else need be done, hence the low CO2 price. Projecting this out to 2030 with the proposed 2.2% annual reduction and meeting the 27% renewable energy goal across the EU energy system, shows that sector emissions are only slightly above the cap (about 50 million tonnes), which again implies a low to modest CO2 price. Assume further that a CCS programme is actually running and delivering 50 mtpa storage (through direct incentives) and no further action is required – so a zero CO2 price once again! The model also assumes about 30% growth in electricity generation from 2012 to 2030.

 EU ETS RET impact to 2030

This very simple model doesn’t account for the large allowance surplus that exists in 2012 (> 1 billion allowances), which would therefore be unlikely to vanish through normal growth in electricity demand, industrial production and so on. This makes it imperative that the EU also implements the supply side mechanism within the ETS, which would then remove much of the surplus through the early 2020s. Ideally, implementation of this should be immediate and also with immediate effect, rather than waiting until post 2020.

Should Member States not implement specific renewable energy policies and the supply side mechanism is active and functioning, we might just have an ETS that actually drives change in the large emitters sector, but there are two big “ifs” here. Otherwise, expect continued price weakness and probably a higher overall cost of energy as a result.

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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Slide1

While there was plenty of talk at COP 19 about financing, national ambition, increasing pre-2020 ambition and adaptation, another core subject that struggled for high-level attention (the other one being CCS) was the idea of carbon pricing, specifically delivered through carbon markets. This is one of those subjects that an observer of the process would expect to see appearing in almost every discussion, yet it didn’t make it out of the SBSTA working group meetings. This meant that the high level discussions towards the end of the COP (when the national delegations are typically bolstered by the presence of a Minister) didn’t get to hear about carbon pricing at all (or CCS).

There is no doubt that carbon pricing appears on many national agendas, with of course the EU leading that trend through the 2005 start of the EU ETS. Parts of the US and Canada, New Zealand, Kazakhstan (pilot phase) and a few others have already incorporated carbon pricing within parts of their energy systems and China, South Africa and others are in various stages of preparing for it. These are positive developments, but carbon pricing really only works at its most efficient when coverage is both widespread and coordinated, otherwise leakage (in various forms), arbitrage and rent-seeking can undermine local implementation. Further to this and as I have discussed in previous postings, if carbon pricing isn’t a core element of the eventual climate policy framework, then emissions may not go down at the necessary rate or if they do decline it will likely be at a much higher cost than would otherwise have been necessary.

Carbon pricing is also the potential lever for large scale financing of mitigation projects, as has been seen to some extent with the CDM. By far the largest flow of finance to projects in developing countries has come through the application of the CDM and subsequent sale of CERs on international markets, not through public financing of projects through funds, development aid and the like. While these latter approaches are also important, they will never be sufficiently large or aggressive enough to underpin the scale of global mitigation required. Well over a billion CERs have been created since the start of the CDM, which equates to some $10 billion in carbon financing and possibly $30-$70 billion in underlying project financing.  But even discussions on the CDM in Warsaw were lacklustre, with some CDM negotiators continuing to think and operate as if the year was 2006 and demand for CERs was on an rise. At the beginning of the Warsaw talks, there was some discussion amongst negotiators about having the Green Climate Fund (GCF) utilise the CDM as a results-based financing tool, and allowing the CDM to become a ‘net mitigation tool’ for non-Annex 1 countries to utilise as they prepare for tabling contributions next year and in 2015. In the end, no such language emerged from Warsaw, which raises the prospect of even this mechanism struggling to survive in the post 2015 world.

One could argue that carbon pricing is simply part of national implementation and therefore shouldn’t feature at the UNFCCC level, but as noted above, that is not an efficient approach. There is a potential role for the UNFCCC to create a framework which both encourages the use of carbon pricing and coordinates its implementation through linkage, leading eventually to the much desired “global carbon market”. Within the current negotiations, the only place a UNFCCC role might be created is through the New Market Mechanism (NMM) within the Framework for Various Approaches (FVA). Some thoughts on this can be found here (Carbon Pricing, the FVA and the NMM), where the FVA/NMM is proposed to include a linking framework for all countries to use.

 NMM and FVA

There is also a second argument that linkage can be achieved bilaterally, such as California and Quebec have negotiated and Australia had proposed with the EU (presumably now defunct given the repeal of carbon legislation now underway in Australia). But bilateral linkage runs its course very quickly before multilateral discussions are required. For example, if Quebec now reached out to another party to link to, California would have to be involved given the existing link, so a trilateral discussion would be needed. This would quickly get very complex and large potential linking partners such as the EU would have to shift to a multilateral approach of some description.

So what happened to carbon markets in Warsaw? The short answer is not much.

The FVA and NMM discussions ground to a standstill in the first week. Concerns about basic form and function of the FVA dogged the discussion, compounded by other concerns relating to whether these were pre or post 2020 mechanisms. In the end, the FVA and NMM discussions were postponed until the regular SBSTA meetings in June. The UNFCCC posting on the FVA and NMM in Warsaw shows nothing more than the input documents that were available prior to the COP, with no conclusions whatsoever.

On a positive note this delay at least offers more time to develop FVA and NMM thinking along the “carbon market” lines outlined above, rather than have a weak agreement that precludes such a possibility and leaves them languishing as information sharing bodies – an entirely possibly outcome from this process. But the lack of attention to carbon pricing and carbon markets in the context of a global deal that is meant to rapidly drive down global emissions is worrying. There remains of course the sterling efforts of the World Bank and their Partnership for Market Readiness, but initiatives such as these won’t be sufficient without some overarching policy action to create the markets in the first place.

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.