Archive for Global warming

Friends of the Earth report on carbon trading – risks burying its good points with garbled points

Posted in Carbon markets with tags , , , , , , , , on November 5, 2009 by Dan

I just read the new report on carbon trading (pdf) from Friends of the Earth. Given the charity’s stance on anything related to carbon trading, the critical approach is unsurprising. The report makes some good points, but also makes some points that don’t seem well thought out. This is a shame because the charity could achieve much more by taking a reasoned position in the debate and focusing on the things that need changing.

One of my gripes is that the report contains some rash statements, like:

The EU ETS scheme has clearly failed to provide adequate incentives for European firms to reduce their emissions in Phase I;  Phase II is performing poorly and is likely to fail.

Is it? Last time I checked it was doing OK! Or:

The complexity of the carbon markets, and the involvement of financial speculators and complex financial products, carries a risk that carbon trading will develop into a speculative commodity bubble that could provoke a global financial failure similar in scale and nature to that brought about by the recent subprime mortgage crisis.

That’s not a good comparison. There is a lot of derivative trading in the EU ETS but we know exactly what the underlying asset is. The derivatives are simply tools to make trading smoother. The idea that carbon markets are a ponzi scheme run by speculators runs through the report, and some errors are made, including that most carbon credits are held by speculators (they aren’t; most credits are held by statutory market participants).

And the environmental economics get a bit shaky with the argument that cap and trade actually ‘locks in’ high emissions:

Polluters have an incentive to make extra emission reductions under emissions trading so that they can sell credits, therefore, emissions trading stimulates innovation. This model accurately explains the situation of sellers of credits. […But it ignores the buyers…] Carbon trading makes lower-cost credits available to these firms as an alternative to the higher-cost investments that they would otherwise have to make. Hence trading removes any incentive that they have for technological innovation.

This would be better explained as “cap and trade makes equally valuable emission reductions for less money”.

I do, however, agree with FoE’s stance on offsetting. The report says:

developed countries are using the prospect of increased carbon market finance to hide from their commitments under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to provide new and additional sources of finance to developing countries. Carbon market finance comes from offsetting developed-country emissions cuts which should be additional. Counting it towards the financial commitments of developed countries is double counting.

This is right. And the report makes a generally fair rehearsal of all the usual issues with offsetting and the CDM.

If the parties to the UNFCCC can turn the screw on carbon markets, by (a) using the cap to demonstrate greater commitment to more ambitious reductions and (b) cutting out offsetting, then carbon markets like the EU ETS can be an effective central tool in mitigation. There is no reason why cap and trade should exclude direct support for low carbon technologies where governments feel help is needed.

It’s not practical to ask the UNFCCC to throw out carbon markets, and I would like to see FoE take only its reasonable points to the negotiations.


Carbon trading game – understanding the difference between the three basic types of environmental policy

Posted in Climate policy with tags , , , , , , , on September 29, 2009 by Dan

I’ve developed a game that explains the differences between three key policy options for reducing emissions: command and control, tax and cap-and-trade. There are other games like it, but I think this one works really well and we like to use it with clients to explain the rationale behind the current preference that many governments have for cap-and-trade policies.

‘Command and control’ is when the government simply tells industry to reduce emissions by a set amount. ‘Tax’ involves levying a charge on each tonne of pollution. ‘Cap-and-trade’ is a policy type that allows companies to buy and sell emission credits, and therefore choose who makes the necessary reductions. Here’s how the game works:

Up to six participants (or six teams of two or three) are cast as the CEOs of large, carbon-intensive companies. They have asked their business analysts to prepare reports on how they can reduce their carbon emissions. These reports are shown at the top of each worksheet (you can download the worksheets here). Each company can implement two projects. You don’t have to implement an entire project – you can do half of it for the half the cost.

The facilitator (who is cast as the government), then asks each company to work out how much it will cost them to meet emission reductions under a command and control regime (i.e. you must meet the reduction target, and you can only implement your own projects). The facilitator asks each company to report how much money they spent and the emission reductions they achieved, and writes totals up on a flipchart.

Next, a tax regime is used. Each company will be charged £40 for every tonne of carbon that they miss their target by. Again, they report the results.

Finally a cap-and-trade scheme is used. Each company decides how many credits they would buy or sell at four price points (using auction ‘order books’, which you can download here). The data is fed into a spreadsheet that works out the optimal clearing price and shows who buys and who sells (the spreadsheet is available here). It’s called a French auction and it’s just like real carbon markets.

The exercise shows that:

  • Command and control achieves the desired emission reductions, but at a high price;
  • Tax is cost efficient, but unpredictable in terms of emission reductions; and
  • Cap-and-trade is cost efficient and achieves the desired reductions.

The game involves huge simplifications, of course, but does outline some basic economics behind these policy choices.

EU 2008 Carbon Dioxide Emissions Exceed Permits by 25 Percent

Posted in Carbon markets with tags , , , , , on April 1, 2009 by Dan

The EC has published verified emissions data.


Power plants and factories in the European Union’s emissions trading program produced 25 percent more carbon dioxide than the amount of permits they received, according to Bloomberg calculations based on European Commission data.

The data is 91 percent complete, Stavros Dimas, the environment commissioner, said today in Brussels. The comparison between verified emissions and the allowances total is a like for like comparison, using only figures for installations that data is available for.

EU ETS: “No longer as short”

Posted in Carbon markets with tags , , , , on March 31, 2009 by Dan

Point Carbon has just published its annual survey of people working in carbon markets. It’s full of useful insights and I can email you a copy if you want one.

In particular, I was interested in a chart on the expected trading positions of participants representing companies in the EU ETS (below). The proportion of companies with surplus EUAs has jumped about 10 ppts between 2008 and 2009, from 15% to 25%. The proportion that need more EUAs or CERs is something like half (the top four categories).


This tells a clear story: as recession bites, demand for carbon credits will be lower. But by this metric (which admittedly is a bit crude – it’s just the proportion of people who report being short/long and doesn’t account for the volume of emissions they represent), the movement is not so predicted to be big enough to sink the market.

Non-weigh in to third runway

Posted in Other with tags , , , , on January 15, 2009 by Dan

Geoff Hoon announced that the government will approve the third runway. We can be pretty sure this is not the end of the argument; the campaigning NGOs (and Boris) are going to have a field day.

I thought I’d weigh into the argument (or maybe it’s a non-weigh in). Instinctively I don’t support a new runway – while I can see the leakage point of losing transit passengers, the UK should be showing leadership in climate policy – but I admit I don’t understand the environmental or economic impact.

The debate is full of flimsy sounding statistics around the changes in greenhouse gas emissions, jobs created and business requirements for airport expansion. Each side makes different claims and I suspect there are aren’t many people who know what data is available or what it says.

I believe the aviation industry needs to shrink, but I find it hard to take a reasoned stance on the third runway.

Incidentally, you’ll probably have noticed Greenpeace’s ‘Airplot’ campaign in the media, which I think is a great piece of campaigning.

Cap and trade in the context of shrinking production

Posted in Climate policy with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2008 by Dan

Questions are being asked of the two working installation-level cap and trade schemes in light of economic recession. The EU ETS – the world’s largest carbon market – is trading at about 16 Euros per tonne and is volatile because no-one is quite sure of the impact of shrinking production. Analysts believe that all reductions could now be met through purchase of CERs. Essentially this means that industry within the EU ETS has lowered its output and can comply with the cap by offsetting rather than making additional internal reductions.

The other scheme, RGGI, a scheme covering power plants in north-east US, held its second pre-compliance auction on 18 December and sold 31.5m allowances at a price of $3.38 per short ton (up 31c from the first auction, which is surprising given the commentary that follows). An article on BusinessGreen says:

… the auction came amid fears that the economic downturn meant the US scheme could repeat the mistakes evident in the first phase of the EU’s emissions trading scheme by setting the cap too high – a scenario that led to a glut of available emission permits and a collapse in the price of carbon.

Non-profit policy thinktank Environment Northeast released RGGI Emissions Trends & the Second Allowance Auction, a report which said emissions were currently 16 per cent below the cap. It pointed to skyrocketing fossil fuel prices earlier in the year as the primary reason for a lower than expected emissions rate.

“RGGI was negotiated back in early 2003 through 2005, and at that time everybody thought the trend would be up,” said Derek K Murrow, director of policy analysis at Environment Northeast. “Since it was negotiated we’ve seen a signfiicant decline, which is really a good thing. Now the question is whether that trend will continue as the programme starts up in 2009, in which case the cap might need to be bought down more quickly after the first compliance period. Or will emissions return to their historic levels, in which case the cap would be constraining?”

Comments like this suggest that cap-and-trade must deliver a carbon price that is neither zero nor unbearably high, and also force emission reductions beyond anything that happens ‘naturally’ (as a result of lower consumption or developments in eco-efficiency, for example). These characteristics sound more like tax than cap and trade. Cap and trade provides an absolute limit for emissions and a price crash indicates that the limit can be met with no unusual investment. Equally, if emissions rise unexpectedly, a cap and trade market will force decisions about where additional reductions will be made.

That’s the strength of cap-and-trade: unforeseeable events that effect emission levels are reflected in the permit price. If the price crashes due to unforeseen cuts in emissions, the cap and trade scheme is not a failed policy.

EU should insure long term carbon prices to push the climate and energy package through

Posted in Climate policy with tags , , , , , on December 1, 2008 by Dan

Some industries are claiming that carbon costs could lead them to move outside the EU, which would harm the internal economy and prevent emission reductions. Eurogypsum – the trade body of gypsum manufacturers – is claiming this, but it’s not clear whether the issue is the absolute cost of carbon or the uncertainty over price.

In an interview with Euractive the president of Eurogypsum said:

I cannot challenge the fact that we have to decrease the energy content in our product. But I can also say that in the thirty years that I have been in the industry, we divided the cost of energy in our products by two. And there is still room for progress. So, it is our job in managing the business. Having an incentive to push us to accelerate is okay.

What I am afraid of is the free market for the CO2 tickets because it is out of control. We do not know. When we make a simulation at a certain level, we have no vision of the carbon price. So that is one of the main issues is that the system that they are going to adopt is a system that will give us no vision of what could happen. Maybe it will cost nothing. Maybe it will cost a big amount. So we may take decisions on something that will never happen? They should be conscious about that…

When you have to choose in between certainty or uncertainty, you avoid the uncertainty.

EUAs trade out to 2012 on derivative markets, but not ten years out like Eurogypsum is thinking, and there are no readily available financial products that can transfer that sort of risk.

Over the next few months, as traders speculate on the extent of the recession and talks in Poznan and Brussels hopefully provide some clarity on Phase III, the EUA price is going to be volatile and those pushing back against the climate and energy package are likely to use this as a lever.

France (as EU Council president) is putting together a big package of concessions for industries in central and eastern Europe in an attempt to push the package through. One that I would throw into the mix is a publicly backed long-term carbon hedge. This would hopefully knock on the head the argument “we’re all environmentalists and we don’t mind paying for carbon, it’s the uncertainty that messes with our business models”.