Some post-Paris diplomacy

President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met last week for their first formal bilateral meeting since the latter was elected. With the success of the Paris Agreement behind them, the two leaders made their first steps together towards implementation with the announcement of a number of actions. A greater focus on methane emissions figured high on the list of things to do, but perhaps even more important than this was the recognition that co-opoerative action is required to implement the provisions within the Paris Agreement that are aimed at carbon market development. The joint statement released during the meeting made a very specific reference to this work;

Recognizing the role that carbon markets can play in helping countries achieve their climate targets while also driving low-carbon innovation, both countries commit to work together to support robust implementation of the carbon markets-related provisions of the Paris Agreement. The federal governments, together and in close communication with states, provinces and territories, will explore options for ensuring the environmental integrity of transferred units, in particular to inform strong INDC accounting and efforts to avoid “double-counting” of emission reductions.

The reference here is to Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which allows for “internationally transferable mitigation outcomes” (ITMO) between Nationally Determined Contributions. Article 6 also establishes an emissions mitigation mechanism (EMM) which could well support the ITMO by becoming, amongst other things, a standardised carbon unit for transfer purposes. These are the sorts of areas where considerable thought will be required over the coming months.

The statement represents a big step forward for the United States and for the further development of carbon markets. The USA was amongst the very first countries to release its INDC, within which can be found the statement;

Use of markets:
At this time, the United States does not intend to utilize international market mechanisms to implement its 2025 target.

This was not a big surprise at the time. It was still early days for the resurgent political interest in the importance of government implementation of carbon pricing and therefore the supporting role that international carbon markets can play in helping optimise its use. But a great deal has happened in a year (the USA released its INDC on March 25th 2015), topped off with Article 6 in the Paris Agreement. This time last year that looked like an almost impossible dream, although several of us in the carbon pricing community dared to talk about it.

But perhaps it is the developments in North America itself that have raised the profile of cross-border carbon unit trade with the respective national governments. Although the California-Québec linked cap-and-trade system got going in 2014, it wasn’t until 2015 that Ontario showed a sudden interest in joining the system. At the April 2015 Québec Summit on Climate Change, Ontario announced its intention to set up a cap-and-trade system and join the Québec-California carbon market. The following September, Quebec and Ontario signed a cooperation agreement aimed at facilitating Ontario’s upcoming membership in the Québec- California carbon market. To add to this, during COP21 Manitoba announced that it would implement, for its large emitters, a cap-and-trade system compatible with the Quebec-California carbon market. Québec and Ontario then committed in Paris to collaborate with Manitoba in the development of its system bysigning a memorandum of understanding tothat effect.

Others US states and Canadian provinces may join, with Mexico also looking on in interest. This could in turn lead to a significant North American club of carbon markets; perhaps one even starting to match the scale and breadth of the 30 member EU ETS. Clubs of carbon markets are seen by many observers as the quickest and most effective route to widespread adoption of carbon pricing. The Environmental Defence Fund based out of New York has written extensively on the subject with their most recent paper being released in August last year.

With parts of the USA members of a multi-national club of carbon markets, the Federeal government is then effectively bound to build their use into their NDC thinking. There may be a significant flow of units across national borders, which will make it necessary to account for them through Article 6 and the various transparency provisions of the Paris Agreement.

But most importantly there is the economic benefit of doing this; a larger more diverse market will almost certainly see a lower cost of carbon across the participating jurisdictions than would otherwise have been the case. This could translate into a lower societal cost for reaching a given decarbonization goal or open up the possibility of greater mitigation ambition.