This week has seen a report produced for the British Government which details pathways towards a global carbon market and the benefits of doing so. A series of policy recommendations are put foprward in the report along with supporting analysis. The report makes excellent reading.
A fully functioning global market for carbon is essential for many reasons. First and foremost, it will drive the reduction of emissions globally in an organised and equitable manner, always picking off the next best project along the abatament curve and therefore giving us a lowest cost solution to meeting reduction targets. The resulting carbon price will also act as an incentive to spur the development of a range of new technologies, such as carbon carbon and storage. The overall global cost of meeting, say, a 2050 target can be reduced significantly with a fully fungible global market, compared to the alternative of many separate stand alone systems.
But such a market will not be something that policy makers will ever be able to create in one swoop, rather it will evolve as individual systems are linked together, as sectoral approaches mature and begin to deliver credited reductions and as new policy mechanisms are introduced in areas such as land use and forestry. Today, we have just the beginnings of such a system, with the EU-ETS buying certified reductions via the CDM, thereby projecting the EU carbon price into many developing countries.
We can already see the dawn of other approaches, such as in the USA, Australia and New Zealand. But whilst both the Australian and New Zealand systems are underpinned with Kyoto AAUs, as is the EU, this is clearly not the case in the US Waxman-Markey case. The USA system, whilst architecturally very similar to the other systems, does not immediately recognise the same project mechanism nor present the possibility of fungible (AAU based) allowances, so discontinuities are already appearing. What is missing is the notion of a common currency for carbon.
This then brings into focus one of the key deliverables from Copenhagen – somehow merging the Kyoto negotiating track and the Long Term Cooperative Action track. Unless this can be achieved we may end up with emission trading systems that simply can’t link together because they are built on different platforms. Although Waxman-Markey does offer an open door for recognition, it won’t be possible to use it as it will present an unrecognised source or sink for allowances within the other systems.
Such a discontinuity will drive up the overall cost of compliance for everyone. Alternatively, we can ensure that the various systems are built on a common platform, recognising the same underlying units, thereby ensuring the shift towards a global market.