Category Archives: international comparisons

Economic growth and emissions cuts can go together

There is often said to be a trade-off between growth and decarbonisation, but the evidence shows that advanced economies can combine large emissions cuts with continuing economic growth.

Policy on greenhouse gas emissions reductions is often framed as a trade-off between greater emissions reductions and greater economic growth.  However, while emissions clearly can’t be reduced to zero immediately, faster emissions reductions can be accompanied by robust economic performance.  The clearest example of this is the UK.  Since 1990 the UK has cut its total greenhouse gas emissions much more rapidly than other G7 countries, while growing its economic output per capita more than the average.  This is illustrated in Chart 1.

Chart 1: UK per capita GDP growth and greenhouse gas emissions compared with the G7 average[i]

The extent by which the UK has cut its per capita emissions relative to other countries is emphasised in the following charts, which show that the UK has achieved by far the largest reductions in per capita CO2 emissions.

Chart 2: CO2 emissions per capita in 2016 and 1990 for G7 countries[ii]

Note: Japanese emissions rose by 0.4 tonnes per capita over the period (not shown)

Chart 3: Change in per capita and total CO2 emissions 1990 to 2016 for G7 countries

Note: Data in these charts is for CO2 only, excluding other greenhouse gases.

Of course, some of the relative changes reflect circumstances.  The UK started with relatively high emissions, including extensive use of coal in power generation.  In contrast, France already had a low carbon power sector in 1990, and in 2016 France’s per capita emissions remained about 8% below those of the UK, even though UK emissions had fallen much more from their 1990 levels.

Germany has also achieved significant reductions, having benefitted from reductions in emissions in the former East Germany and installing large amounts of renewables.  However it has been hampered by continuing extensive use of coal and lignite for power generation.  The USA has accommodated significant population growth with only a small rise in emissions, but this is clearly nowhere near enough if it is to make an appropriate contribution to global reductions.  Emissions remain at almost three times UK levels.  Canadian emissions are also high and have increased in absolute terms.  Japan’s emissions have grown slightly over the period.

Some falls in emissions in G7 economies may reflect a shift in the global pattern of emissions, with reduced emissions from industry in the G7 economies balanced by increases in China and elsewhere.  However this can’t account for all of the reductions that have been achieved, or the vast differences in reductions between countries.

Policy has certainly also played its part.  UK policy has successfully targeted relatively low cost emissions reduction, notably reducing coal use in the power sector.  Above all the Climate Change Act (2008) has provided a consistent and rigorous policy framework.

And whatever the reason, one thing is clear.  Cutting emissions more can accompany growing the economy more.

Adam Whitmore – 8th March 2018

 

 

[i]https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/651916/BEIS_The_Clean_Growth_online_12.10.17.pdf

[ii] http://www.pbl.nl/en/publications/trends-in-global-co2-and-total-greenhouse-gas-emissions-2017-report

There should be few reservations about auction reserve prices

The auction reserve price in California has proved successful in maintaining a minimum carbon price.  However it shows the importance for an emissions trading system of political commitment and stability. 

This is the second of two posts looking at experience of carbon price floors.  My previous post looked at UK carbon price support, which guarantees a minimum price by means of a tax.   This post looks at an alternative approach, which is used in California  and the other Western Climate Imitative systems, Quebec and Ontario.  Here, instead of imposing a tax, the floor is set by specifying a reserve price in auctions of allowances.  If bids in auctions stay below the reserve price the allowances are not sold.  Reserve prices such as this are common in practice in many commercial auctions, including those held by major auction houses and online.

Reserve prices give what is often called a “soft” floor.  The market price can go below the auction reserve, but eventually the need to buy allowances at auction is likely to ensure that the price recovers.

The chart below shows the auction reserve price in the California system (green line), which started at $10/tonne in 2012 and is increased each year by 5% plus the rate of inflation.  The California market price (blue line) has generally stayed above this level.  However it did dip below the reserve price for a while in 2016, illustrating that the floor is soft.  This price dip reflected a combination of legal challenges to the system, and political uncertainty about the continuation of the system after 2020, which together reduced the demand for allowances.  Once those uncertainties were resolved the market price recovered.

Chart: Auction reserve prices and market allowance prices in the California cap-and-trade system to end of 2017

Source:  http://calcarbondash.org/ and CARB

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) has similar arrangements but with a much lower reserve price, and there too the price has been above the floor.

The environmental effectiveness of price containment mechanisms depends in large part on what eventually happens to any unsold allowances.  In the case of California this issue particularly affects the upper Price Containment Reserve, from which allowances are released if prices go above defined thresholds.  Allowances from this reserve appear most unlikely to be required in the current phase, as prices seem highly unlikely to reach the threshold levels.  If these unsold allowances in the reserve are cancelled, or otherwise put beyond use, cumulative emissions will be lower.  However if they eventually find their way back into the system, and enable the corresponding quantity of emissions to take place, the environmental benefit may not be realised, or at least not it full.  Some sort of cancellation mechanism is therefore needed, for example cancelling allowances that have been in the reserve for more than a specified number of years.

So price floors can work, however in the case of the California system at least two things need to be agreed as the rules for the system after 2020 are debated this year.

First, continuation of the escalation of the floor price needs be confirmed at least at the current rate, and ideally the rate should be increased.

Secondly, rules for cancelling unsold allowances from the Price Containment Reserve need to be defined.  The cancellation of allowances from the Market Stability Reserve included in the recent reforms to the EUETS sets a valuable precedent in this respect.

The theoretical advantages of a floor price in an ETS are well known.  The experience of auction reserve prices now proving effective in practice over a number of years should encourage other jurisdictions, especially the EU, to introduce similar arrangements.  And those jurisdictions such as California where they are already in place need to continue to develop and enhance them.

Adam Whitmore – 15th February 2018

Can emissions trading produce adequate carbon prices?

Prices under emissions trading schemes have been low to date.  Sometimes this may be because systems are new, but the EUETS is long established and needs to demonstrate that it can now produce adequate prices. 

Prices under emissions trading systems around the world have so far remained low.  The chart below shows carbon pricing systems arranged in order in increasing price, with prices on the vertical axis shown against the cumulative volume covered on the horizontal axis.  Carbon taxes are shown in purple, emissions trading systems in green.  It is striking that all of the higher prices are from carbon taxes, rather than emissions trading systems.

Prices under Emissions Trading Systems and Carbon taxes in 2016

capture

Source:  World Banks State and Trends of carbon pricing report[1].  Prices are from mid-2016.

Prices in the largest emissions trading system, the EUETS have been around $5-6/tonne, and prices in the Chinese pilot schemes have been similar and in some cases even lower, although with little trading.  The price under the California and Quebec scheme (soon to be joined by Ontario) is somewhat higher.  However, this is supported by a floor set in advance and implemented by an auction reserve price.  If this price floor were not present a surplus of allowances would very likely have led to lower prices.  The Korea scheme has had very low trading volumes, so does not provide the same sort of market signal found under more liquid schemes.

In contrast, a wide range of carbon taxes are already at higher levels and in some cases are due to increase further.  The French carbon tax, which covers sectors of the economy falling outside the EUETS, is planned to reach €56/tCO2 (US$62/tCO2) in 2020 and €100/tCO2 (US$111/tCO2) in 2030[2].  In Canada a national lower limit on carbon prices for provinces with an explicit price-based system (not shown on the chart) is due to reach $50 per tonne in 2022[3]. The UK carbon price floor, which covers power sector emissions, was due to rise to substantially above current levels, but is currently being kept constant by the Government, mainly because the price under the EUETS is so low.

Increases such as those due in France and Canada will bring some carbon taxes more in line with the cost of damages, and thus to economically efficient prices.  The cost of damages is conservatively estimated at around $50/tonne[4], rising over time (see here for a discussion of the social cost of carbon and associated issues).  The increases will also bring prices more into line with the range widely considered to be necessary to stimulate adequate low carbon investment[5].

Low prices under emissions trading systems have been attributed to a range of factors, including slower than expected economic growth and falling costs of renewables[6].  However these factors do not explain the consistent pattern of low prices across a variety of systems over different times[7].

While it is difficult to derive firm evidence on why this pattern should be present, two factors seem plausible.  The first is systematic bias in estimates – industry and governments will expect more growth that actually occurs, costs will be overestimated, and these tendencies will be reflected in early price modelling, which can often overstate likely prices.

But the second, more powerful, tendency appears, based on anecdotal evidence, to be that there is an asymmetry of political risk.  The political costs of unexpectedly low prices are usually perceived as much less than those of unexpectedly high prices, and so there will always be tendency toward caution, which prevents tight caps, and so leads to prices being too low.

This tendency is difficult to counteract, and has several implications for future policy.

First, it further emphasises the value of price floors within emissions trading systems.  Traditional environmental economics emphasises the importance of uncertainty around an expected level of abatement costs or damages.  If decision makers are not in fact targeting expected average levels, but choosing projections of allowance demand above central expectations then the probability of very low prices is increased, and the case for the benefits of a price floor is stronger.

Second, it implies that it is even less appropriate than would anyway be the case to expect the carbon price alone to drive the transition to a low carbon economy.  Measures so support low carbon investment, which would in any case be desirable, are all the more important if the carbon price is weak (see here for a fuller discussion of the value of a range of policy measures).   While additional measures do risk further weakening the carbon price, they should also enable reduced emissions and tighter caps in future.

Third, it requires governments to learn over time.  Some low prices may reflect the early stage of development of systems, starting slowly with the intention of generating higher prices over time.  However this does require higher prices to eventually be realised.

The EUETS has by some distance the longest-established system, having begun eleven years ago and with legislation now underway for the cap to 2030, by which time the system will be 25 years old.  The EU should be showing how schemes can be tightened over time to generate higher prices.  However it now looks as though the Phase 4 cap will be undemanding compared with expectations (see previous posts).  The recent vote by the European Parliament’s ENVI committee failed to adopt measure that are adequate to redressing the supply demand balance, with tweaks to the market stability reserve unlikely to be enough.  This undermines the credibility of cap-and-trade systems more generally, rather than setting the example that it should.  Further reform is needed, including further adjustments to supply and preferably auction reserve prices.

The advantages of cap-and trade systems remain.  Quantity limits are in line with the international architecture set by the Paris Agreement.  They also provide a clear strategic signal that emissions need to be reduced over time.

However there is little evidence to date that emissions trading systems can produce adequate prices. The EU, with by far the most experience of running an ETS, should be taking the lead in substantially strengthening its system.  At the moment this leadership is lacking.  Wider efforts to tackle climate change are suffering as a result.

Adam Whitmore – 23rd January 2017

[1] https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/25160

[2] World Bank State and Trends in Carbon Pricing 2016.  See link in reference 1.

[3] http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?nid=1132169  Canadian provinces with volume based schemes such as Quebec with its ETS must achieve emissions reductions equivalent to these prices.

[4] $40/tonne in $2007, see https://www.epa.gov/climatechange/social-cost-carbon, escalated to about $50 today’s dollars.

[5] See this recent discussion: https://www.weforum.org/events/world-economic-forum-annual-meeting-2017/sessions/the-return-of-carbon-markets

[6] Ref: Tvinnereim (2014) http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-014-1282-1#page-1

 

[7] The South Korea ETS may be a partial exception to the pattern.  However it is unclear due to the lack of liquidity in the market.

Carbon prices around the world are consistently too low

Carbon pricing is spreading rapidly around the world [i].  However prices almost everywhere are far too low at the moment to price emissions efficiently.  The chart below summarises carbon prices in those jurisdictions with pricing.  The horizontal axis shows volumes, the vertical axis shows prices, as in a conventional commodity supply curve.  The vast majority of priced emissions – about 90% of the total – are priced below $14/tCO2.  Higher carbon prices are invariably for small volumes, and are found only in Europe and British Columbia.  They include prices under the French carbon tax, which covers sectors outside the EUETS, the UK carbon price floor, where the EUA price is topped up, and longstanding carbon taxes in Scandinavia.

The chart also shows the social cost of carbon – which represents the cost of the environmental damage caused by emissions – as estimated the US EPA.  This is almost certainly an underestimate[ii] of the true cost, and the concept has other limitations that imply it is no more than a lower bound to what it is worth paying to avoid emissions.  Carbon prices are thus too low even compared with a likely underestimate of the cost of emissions.  Taxes are too low and caps are too loose to price carbon adequately.  Consequently efficient abatement is not happening[iii].

Prices and volumes of carbon pricing around the world

Carbon supply curve

Price data is from May 2015.  I have excluded the Mexican carbon tax on the grounds that it does not apply to natural gas and so does not fully tax carbon.  The Chilean carbon tax is included although it does not come into force until 2018.  The South African carbon tax is scheduled to be introduced next year, but may be postponed, or may not be introduced at all.  The EUETS price would be somewhat higher but for the weakness of the Euro against the dollar at the moment.   The Social Cost of Carbon is the US EPA estimate at a 3% discount rate and converted to $2015 – see reference 2.

Prices may increase in future.  However this process looks likely to be too slow in most cases.  For example, under the California and Quebec scheme prices are currently at the floor set by the auction reserve.  This escalates at 5% p.a. real terms.  However at the present rate this will take until around 2050 to catch up even with the EPA’s estimate of the social cost of carbon[iv], which also shows increases in real terms over time.  Prices elsewhere in North America are mostly lower still.  In the EU there is little evidence from forward markets that allowances will reach significantly closer to the social cost of carbon over the next few years, and it seems unlikely that China will seek to price emissions at much above levels that prevail in the EU and North America.  It therefore seems likely on present trends to be a long time before prices in major jurisdictions reach levels that reflect the cost of damage from climate change, or are sufficient to limit temperature rises to two degrees.

This implies that further action is needed to make higher prices more politically acceptable.  Doing this will be a huge challenge, but two strands of any solution appear clear.  Ensuring that industry that is genuinely vulnerable to carbon leakage is appropriately safeguarded from competitive distortions will help mitigate political obstacles to higher pricing.  And efficient carbon pricing may further be helped by more explicit recycling of revenue to citizens, including ideas such as cap-and-dividend, in which the proceeds of sale of allowances under a cap-and-trade scheme are returned directly to citizens.  This in effect defines citizens as owners of the right to emit and so gives everyone a stake in higher prices (more on this in a future post).  Elements of such an approach are evident in British Columbia and were part of the former Australian scheme.

Measures other than carbon pricing are in any case necessary to bring about the required transformation of the energy sector[v].  And while carbon prices remain too low there will be an even greater need for such approaches, even if these may sometimes themselves help keep the carbon price low.  Funds to subsidise deployment of low carbon technologies may come from the proceeds of carbon pricing, especially in jurisdictions such as North America where earmarking of revenues is common.

The spread of carbon pricing is a success story, but a limited one in view of the prices prevailing to date.  Efforts both to strengthen the carbon price and enhance complementary policy approaches are needed if climate change is to be limited to acceptable levels.

Adam Whitmore – 2nd June 2015

 

Notes

[i] See  here

[ii] See  here

[iii] The marginal price signal is at too low a level, so some economically efficient abatement is not being signalled.  It is possible that an inefficient mix of abatement is being purchased, even though the level of abatement is efficient.  This could be the case if, for example, there was too much expensive abatement through renewables programmes.  However for a number of reasons this does not seem plausible.  For example, abatement is currently insufficient to meet the agreed 2 degree target, and support for renewables globally is clearly not excessive in view of their present share of generation and the required speed of reduction (although it may well be desirable for more of the support to be in the form of a higher carbon price on fossil fuel use).

 

[iv] Escalating the current carbon price at 5% real terms to 2050 gives a price of about $74/tCO2, roughly in line with the EPA’s central estimate of the Social Cost of Carbon at that date of 2011$76/tCO2.

[v] See here

The continuing spread of carbon pricing

Carbon pricing continues to spread around the world, with major schemes in Chinese provinces now in place.

For my first post this year it seems timely to review progress on implementing carbon pricing around the world.  As I’ve previously noted, the spread of carbon pricing during the past decade has been remarkable.  Once confined to a few small economies in northern Europe, it has become a worldwide phenomenon, with more than a dozen major carbon pricing schemes either in place or under development around the world.  The major step forward in last year has been the start of five regional pricing schemes in China, although trading in these markets remains relatively illiquid.  The expansion of carbon pricing in China is set to continue this year as two more trial schemes go live.  A year from now, assuming current programmes run to schedule, carbon pricing will be in place in jurisdictions that together account for between a fifth and a quarter of total global CO2 emissions from energy and industrial processes. 

Not all emissions in these jurisdictions are priced, as governments use other policy instruments to reduce emissions in particular sectors, for example surface transport in the EU.   Nevertheless, by next year over 10% of the world’s energy and industry CO2 emissions are likely to be priced.

On the Chart below the top (blue) line shows how the percentage of emissions in jurisdictions with pricing has grown over the last decade.  The total includes all energy and industry CO2 emissions taking place in each jurisdiction with carbon pricing.   Thus, if all jurisdictions in the world had carbon pricing in place the total coverage would be shown as 100%.  The lower (green) line shows the percentage of energy and CO2 emissions that are actually priced.  For example, the EU accounts for around 11% of emissions, but only a little under half of these are priced by the EUETS.  The gap between the blue and the green lines is the proportion of emissions covered by other policies, or by no policy.  Even if carbon pricing were to be extended to 100% of jurisdictions it is likely that some emissions would remain unpriced. 

CO2 emissions from land use and emissions of other greenhouse gases are excluded from the calculations.  Including these would reduce the proportion of emissions in jurisdictions with pricing, in part because of a large volume of emissions from deforestation in countries without national carbon pricing, notably in Brazil and Indonesia.  Nevertheless the trend is remarkable, and implies that any country considering carbon pricing is very much part of the worldwide policy mainstream.

Coverage of carbon pricing is increasing …

Coverage chart January 2014

By far the most significant new development over the next few years is likely to be the extension of carbon pricing across all of China, which the Government has indicated it wishes to see in the next few years.  This alone would raise global coverage of carbon pricing to over 40%.  Indonesia is also looking at carbon pricing with a prospective voluntary market potentially leading to a compulsory market in due course. 

We may also see somewhat more widespread carbon pricing in the USA.  EPA regulation of existing power plants under the Clean Air Act will oblige states to put in place implementation plans.  This may lead states to establish emissions trading schemes, or (more likely) join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which covers the power sector only.  Indeed some states are understood to have already expressed an interest in doing so, although it is not yet clear in which states interest is strongest.  Expansion of Western Climate Initiative trading schemes beyond California and Quebec also remains possible.

There also appears to be a trend towards carbon pricing in Latin America.  Mexico may strengthen its currently very limited carbon tax (excluded from the chart) over time.  Provinces in Brazil have looked at emissions trading schemes, and discussions on an ETS are now underway in Chile.

Future trends are, however, far from clear, and the commitment by the Australian government to repeal its carbon pricing legislation is an indication that consistent progress is far from guaranteed.

For those involved with carbon pricing day-to-day it is often easy to forget just how recent it is, and just how much progress has been made in a short time. There is still only a single decade of experience, compared with many decades, and in some cases centuries, for other types of regulation.  As a regulatory “technology” large scale carbon pricing remains more recent than the ipod, and there is still much to learn and a long way to go.  But the achievement to date is both substantial and encouraging.

Adam Whitmore – 16th January 2014

Notes on inclusion and exclusion from the chart:    The small carbon tax introduced in Japan in 2012 by modifying energy taxes is excluded, as is the carbon tax in Mexico, which is small and has limited scope.   The Tokyo emissions trading scheme is excluded as its current status is unclear.  The Swiss scheme is included in the total for the EU.  The status of the Kazakhstan scheme is currently uncertain and I have allowed for a year’s delay to 2015.  For simplicity the California and Quebec schemes are shown with full coverage from their introduction in 2013, although they do not reach this in practice until next year.  Question marks indicate measures which have yet to be enacted. 

Comparison with World Bank study:  The results here are similar to those from a World Bank Study of carbon pricing from 2013, but on a slightly different basis.  The World Bank study quotes just over 10Gt out of 50Gt of emissions taking place in jurisdictions with pricing.  This is for all GHGs.  The total shown here is around 8Gt out of 34Gt (2012 data) for carbon dioxide emissions from energy and industry.  The main difference in the total Gt of emissions in jurisdictions with pricing appears to be due to the inclusion in the World Bank study of a number of jurisdictions where pricing is at an earlier stage than shown here, notably Turkey, Ukraine and Brazil.  However South Africa is excluded from the World Bank total, as is British Columbia.  The total emissions actually priced is quoted by the World Bank as 3.3 Gt, which is 10% of carbon dioxide from energy and industry and 7% of total GHGs, but this excludes some of the China pilots for which no data was available.  I have included estimates in these cases.  If the other pilot Chinese schemes were included  in the World Bank totals their estimates of coverage would likely increase by about a percentage point (to 11% of energy and industry and 8% of total GHGs), roughly in line with the totals quoted here.  The World Bank study can be found at

http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/2013/05/17751166/mapping-carbon-pricing-initiatives-developments-prospects.

 

Data: Emissions data is for 2012, from the EDGAR database, with no adjustment for changes in relative volumes over time.  Shares at subnational level are estimated based on a range of data.  Data sources include  http://edgar.jrc.ec.europa.eu/  and Zhao et. al., China’s CO2 emissions estimated from the bottom up: Recent trends, spatial distributions, and quantification of uncertainties  Atmospheric Environment, Volume 59.

The EUETS stands alone in not managing price – time to change?

The EUETS stands alone in currently excluding any element of price management from its basic design.  In this respect it can learn from other schemes.

The current debate on whether the backload the sale of EU allowances is in many ways a distraction from the more important issue of structural reform.  The Commission’s review of the EUETS published last year mentioned price management as an option for structural reform (Option f in the document)i.  I have previously talked about the way in which carbon pricing lies on a spectrum between pure emissions trading and pure taxes (27th March 2013), and looked at the role of floor prices in emissions trading schemes (2nd May 2013).  In the context of the current debate on EUETS reform it seems worth further emphasising how exceptional the EUETS is in not already including some element of price management in its design.

Every other carbon pricing scheme in the world contains some element of price management or fixed pricing, or (for those schemes still being designed) seems likely to put something in place, with the only possible exception I am aware of being Kazahkstan.  The measures that have been introduced or are being considered – floors, ceilings, market interventions, and carbon taxes – are summarised in the table at the end of this post.

There are many reasons why governments may wish to introduce such mechanisms.  They may be concerned about the economic damage of very high prices, or that low prices will fail to stimulate the necessary long-term investment, or that they do not wish to see the price fall below the range plausible estimates of the likely cost of the damage due to additional emissions.  In any case, pervasive uncertainties in advance about both the effects of climate change and the cost of mitigation imply that simultaneous attention to both prices and quantities is appropriate.  (A review of the reasons for this will need to await another post, but it is a well-established principle.)

There will of course be political challenges in negotiating the form and level of any price thresholds in the EUETS, with some eastern European member states likely to favour lower values than some in western Europe.  But whatever form and level of price containment in the EUETS proves achievable, the presence of such mechanisms in every other scheme in the world surely at least warrants a close look at how such mechanisms might benefit the EUETS.

The EUETS was a pioneering scheme, and other schemes have learnt much from it.  Now other schemes are up and running, and the EUETS can learn from them in return.  And one of the things it can learn is that price containment mechanisms are an appropriate component of emissions trading schemes.

Adam Whitmore – 25th June 2013

Scheme Price floor Price Ceiling Notes
California, $10 + 5% p.a. real escalation auction floor $40/45/50 + 5% p.a. real. Reserve tranche volume increasing over time. The floor appeared to influence the first auction and some future tranches
Quebec C$10 + 5% p.a. real escalation, auction floor c$40/45/50 + 5% p.a. real Linked to California as part of the WCI
RGGI c. $2 constant real, auction floor price Increased offsets at price thresholds.  Moving to Cost Containment Reserve, at $4 in 2014 rising to $10 by 2017, 2.5% p.a. nominal  increase thereafter The floor has been effective in sustaining prices despite chronic oversupply
Alberta No $15/tonne buyout price, may rise to $30-40/tonne following review A hybrid baseline and credit scheme and tax
British Columbia Carbon tax fixed at C$30 May adopt emissions trading in future as part of WCI, but does not appear likely at present.
Australia (pre EU link) A$15 + escalation (abolished with EU link) $20 above EU price, rising annually Fixed price of A$23 rising at 5% nominal p.a. for first three years
New Zealand No Price ceiling at NZ$25 Effective ceiling lower due to 2 for 1 surrender provisions
Prospective schemes
China pilot schemes Likely to have some kind of price management through buying/selling of allowances, perhaps in a “central carbon bank” type model
South Korea Understood to be examining a wide variety of options, including a review committee with powers to implement measures such as increased supply and price floors
South Africa Carbon tax at Rand120/tonne

 

[i] The State of the European Carbon Market in 2012 Com (2012) 652 final, Brussels 14.11.2012 http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/ets/reform/docs/com_2012_652_en.pdf

Will carbon pricing in China be regional or national?

Regional differences are already an important feature of carbon pricing in China.  These differences seem unlikely to stop the emergence of carbon pricing across the country, but prices and scheme designs may continue to vary between regions for many years.  Something may emerge with characteristics between the complete integration of the EUETS and the diversity of provincial schemes in Canada.

Policy developments in China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, are critical to global prospects for limiting climate change.  The trial emission trading schemes being implemented in seven provinces and cities, accounting for around a quarter of the economy, are, taken together, by far the world’s largest carbon pricing system, after the EUETS.  However wealth and economic structure are very different across China.  The seven trial schemes are in the richer eastern and central parts of the country, with as yet nothing equivalent in poorer provinces.  This raises the question of whether economic diversity will be a barrier to establishing national carbon pricing in China.

A unified emissions trading scheme might prove possible despite differences in wealth.  The chart below compares the percentage variation in GDP per capita across the twenty-seven countries in the EU with the thirty-one provinces in China in 2030 (see note below chart for details).   The variation between rich and poor countries in the EU is substantial. The three richest countries (Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands) have per capita incomes around 4.8 times those of the three poorest (Bulgaria, Romania and Poland).  The range of incomes among China’s provinces is slightly smaller, with the three richest provinces, the cities of Tianjin, Shanghai and Beijing, having incomes around 4.5 times those of the three poorest (Gansu, Yunnan and Guizhou).  However the variation in the middle of the income range is greater in China.  Thus, very broadly, the variation in incomes across China is comparable to that across the EU.  As it has been possible to establish and maintain a unified emissions trading scheme across the EU with its diversity of income then it may be possible to establish something similar in China.

Relative wealth chart

The countries/provinces are arranged in order of increasing GDP per capita.  The horizontal axis shows the cumulative proportion of the population in countries/provinces with GDP per capita below a certain level, relative to the national mean per capita GDP (population weighted average across provinces/countries).  The vertical axis shows the relative GDP per capita of countries/provinces.  The blue arrows indicate the positions of the Chinese provinces with trial ETSs.  Data sources are World Bank and China NBS Database.  Data for China is for 31 provinces (taken to include the 22 provinces – Taiwan being excluded – 5 autonomous regions and 4 municipalities). Hong Kong and Macau are excluded.  Data for the EU is for the 27 Members States.  Data is for 2011 in both cases. 

Furthermore, emissions trading creates the potential for transfers of wealth from richer to poorer provinces.  If richer provinces in China have more demanding emissions caps they may buy in allowances from the less prosperous provinces, transferring funds in the process.  Such differences in stringency may to some extent resemble the EU’s burden sharing agreements.  Wealth transfer may stimulate further economic integration and convergence, especially if there is also a transfer of administrative infrastructure and capabilities to less developed provinces as part of the process of building a national scheme.

These considerations lend credibility to a scenario in which there is a single national scheme with uniform prices, but different stringencies of cap in different provinces, and perhaps different allocations of allowances to industry and other sectors across different provinces.  Coverage of sectors and facilities may also vary between provinces.

Nevertheless, even in the EU diversity of economic circumstances is proving an obstacle to reform of the EUETS, with poorer countries in eastern Europe more resistant to reform than more prosperous countries in western Europe.  China’s provinces remain economically diverse and politically distinct, and this may form a barrier to establishing a national trading scheme.  A scenario in which there are separate regional schemes, each having its own rules and prices, with prices generally lower in poorer regions, seems at least as plausible as a fully national scheme, and perhaps more so.  There might be some linkage and trading between schemes, perhaps in the form of offsets, but this might not be enough to fully equalise prices.  Over time schemes might converge, and perhaps eventually merge, but this may take many years.  (Alternatively, differing regional carbon taxes might be introduced.)

Canada is the clearest example of distinct regional pricing in a single country.  Despite total 2011 emissions in Canada being only about 6% of China’s, Canada has three separate provincial carbon pricing schemes (British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec), with other provinces currently considering what, if anything, they might implement.   Any unification of these schemes seems a distant prospect.   Although British Columbia is, like Quebec, a member of the Western Climate Initiative it does not currently appear to be moving towards introduction of an ETS.

Among the barriers to unification of carbon pricing are the different economic structures and resource bases of Canadian provinces, for example hydropower rich Quebec contrasting with fossil fuel rich Alberta.  Similarly, differences in the economies and resource endowment of provinces across China may create persistent barriers to full integration of emissions trading schemes, although there may be greater commonality of design than between the Canadian carbon pricing schemes, which are notably diverse in their approaches to pricing.

Whichever model it chooses it seems clear that China is pursuing carbon pricing as an important component of its emissions reductions programme.  Carbon pricing will surely spread across the country.  And there may well be much in common between regional schemes, and increasing linkage.  But although a national price may emerge in the next few years it also appears possible that pricing could remain diverse for many years to come.

Adam Whitmore  –  17th June 2013   

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