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.