Carbon pricing remains at the centre of most government policy discussions on climate change, but in a year which saw the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) give an unambiguous warning on the need for mitigation action, carbon pricing policy development rather stumbled along.
Undoubtedly the highlight of the year was the restoration of the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) to again become a meaningful mechanism, with prices rising to over €20 as EU growth gained momentum and allowance supply tightening. The recognition that the Market Stability Reserve would be a feature of Phase IV in the 2020s certainly contributed to this. Also in the EU, discussions opened around the need for an EU ETS floor price, following the successful example set by the UK which has seen coal almost vanish from the generation mix since their implementation of such a system.
Singapore also moved forward with the implementation of its carbon tax.
But outside the EU and Singapore it was hard to find any stellar examples of progress, although intent remains high in many jurisdictions. Rather, 2018 was a year troubled by a number of developments in the carbon pricing space;
- In Canada, a new government was elected in the province of Ontario and true to their election manifesto the new Premier took rapid action to remove Ontario from the cap-and-trade system it had only recently joined with California and Quebec.
- Also in Canada, the Federal government moved ahead with its backstop pricing mechanism which will kick in for individual provinces if they do not implement a price through some mechanism of their choice. While this was a positive development, the prospect of litigation from some provinces (either by the current provincial government or by an opposition in waiting) means that this program may have a bumpy ride in the years to come.
- In Brazil there has been discussion for some time now on implementation of a carbon pricing policy, but this is unlikely to continue under the new administration.
- In Australia, even the possibility of a carbon based policy being implemented seemed to create political turmoil. Nevertheless, Australia is not devoid of a mechanism in that the Safeguard Mechanism put in place with the Emissions Reduction Fund has created a secondary market for Australian reduction units on the back of some industrial facilities exceeding their safeguard cap.
- In France, protests erupted late in the year on the back of a carbon tax implemented in the fuels market, although many other factors also lay behind the demonstrations. The government was forced to delay implementation.
- Finally, the year ended with failure at COP24 to agree on the rule-book for Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. While the Article 6 mechanisms are not there to directly implement carbon pricing, their use would certainly help catalyze such developments in many economies.
In between the highs and lows of 2018, there was still progress. China announced further details of its upcoming cap-and-trade system and continues to make progress in implementing their plans and Kazakhstan is now looking to reboot their early system. The very long running discussion on a carbon tax continued in South Africa with the prospect of a system emerging in 2019, although the parliamentary process has yet to conclude.
But this is not the required profile of action for a world that is intent on reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement. That profile was illustrated by the May release of the Shell Sky Scenario which highlighted the extraordinary rate of progress required in this policy area in the 2020s. Whereas in 2020 Sky shows only modest uptake of carbon pricing, reflective of the situation today, by 2030 some form of carbon pricing is covering the bulk of the global economy at a level between $25 and $60 per tonne of carbon dioxide.
Developments in this space need to pick up pace dramatically in 2019, but perhaps the transparency and reporting framework agreed at COP24 will help in that regard. While the Paris rulebook makes no specific demands on governments to implement policy, it will put a spotlight on the actions they choose to take and the mitigation they seek to achieve. Carbon pricing policy ought to see some uptick under such circumstances.