Advancing public and private policymakers’ understanding of the complex interactions between climate change and the economy is critical to taking the most cost-effective action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Read More
City-level Climate Leadership in Boulder: The Climate Action Plan Tax
Cities across the United States are using a range of policy options to achieve their climate mitigation goals. One example is Boulder, Colorado, which has a long history of taking climate action, and is using a market-based approach to both reduce emissions and fund mitigation programs. In 2006, the city passed Initiative 202, the Climate Action Plan (CAP) Tax Initiative, which became the nation’s first directly voter-approved carbon tax. The tax charges consumers based on their fossil fuel-based electricity consumption, and the revenue is used to fund energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.
What if you held a sale and customers bought hardly any of your product? You might conclude that your product wasn’t very popular. If your product happened to be carbon allowances, essentially permission slips to emit carbon pollution, that lack of popularity sounds like a good thing for the climate.
This is essentially what happened last week when California and Quebec, who have joined their carbon markets, announced the results of their most recent auction of allowances. Companies who must buy allowances decided they didn’t need the full amount being offered, presumably because their emissions are declining.
California and Québec began their carbon markets in 2013, and the partners have held joint auctions of allowances every three months since November 2014. Each jurisdiction sets a limit on nearly all fossil fuel combustion at an amount that declines each year (the cap). Businesses responsible for that fossil fuel combustion have to buy allowances at auction to cover their emissions.
Historically, businesses have bought more than 90 percent of the allowances offered. But at the most recent auction, only about 10 percent of the allowances were sold.
This is great news. It means that carbon emissions are going down, and at a faster rate than the policy requires. If emissions were going up, prices at auction would be high. If emissions were going down at the same rate as the cap, then prices might be low but the auction would still sell out.
Market forces, like declining costs of renewable power, are part of the reason why emissions are declining. Businesses can use cost-effective alternatives to fossil fuels in their operations.
Also factoring into the results are the numerous other policies California and Québec have in place to drive down emissions, including ones aimed at increasing energy efficiency. That means businesses use less energy overall.
Is there any reason this might be considered bad news? Well, if you were counting on the money from the sale, it’s a problem.
California has anticipated generating billions in revenue through 2020 from the allowance auctions. But with few allowances sold, that state revenue source drops dramatically. California’s auction revenue is directed to various clean energy programs across the state, which means those programs could be in jeopardy if auction sales remain low.
So, is this an example of cap-and-trade working or not working? I would argue this is how cap-and-trade is supposed to work. The government sets a cap based upon its climate goals, the cap creates a price in the market, and companies incorporate the carbon price into their business decisions. If emissions are low (more accurately, if they are lower than the cap), then businesses don’t buy carbon allowances, pure and simple. Both California and Québec agreed upon rules for handling unsold allowances before their programs started, so businesses know what to expect.
A larger and more difficult question is whether this is an example of carbon pricing working. In both jurisdictions, the cap-and-trade program is only one of many policies aimed at reducing emissions. It’s unclear at the moment to what extent the carbon price is driving down emissions (and allowance demand) versus other policies. A sophisticated statistical analysis is required to answer that question, and as the cap-and-trade program continues there will be observations to enable just such an analysis.
There is often a heated debate around implementing new policies, and it is not unusual to hear predictions that regulating carbon emissions will cause economic doom. But time and again, experience has shown that businesses adapt quickly to new conditions and keep doing what they’re good at – giving us the products and services we want to buy. That they’re doing this while keeping their carbon emissions below a set level is something to celebrate.
After witnessing the historic signing of the Paris Agreement by 175 nations, we now need to turn our attention to fulfilling its promise.
As its nationally determined contribution to the agreement, the United States set a goal of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. In a new paper, C2ES outlines how expected and in-place policies could get us close to the goal line -- reducing emissions by as much as 22 percent. Getting the rest of the way can likely be achieved through a mix of additional policies, city and business action, and technological innovation.
First, let’s look at how we can get to a 22 percent reduction.
U.S. net emissions are already down more than 9 percent from 2005 levels due to market- and policy-related factors, including a shift in electricity generation from coal to natural gas, growth in renewable energy, level electricity demand, and improved vehicle efficiency.
The C2ES business-as-usual forecast, drawn from a number of analyses, projects an additional 5.6 percent reduction in net emissions through such policies as greenhouse gas standards for vehicles and the Clean Power Plan.
The rest of the anticipated emissions reductions is expected to come from new, higher estimates of future carbon sequestration and additional measures under development, including steps to strengthen fuel economy standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks, reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas sector, and reduce hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
Now, how will we address the remaining gap of at least 270 million metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent?
Additional federal policies would help. For example, greenhouse gas standards could be set for major industrial sectors under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, the same section that underlies the Clean Power Plan.
Technological advances that lower the cost of emissions reduction will also undoubtedly play an important role. Over the next five to 10 years, battery storage technologies are expected to improve by a factor of 10, which would support the integration of more renewable generation. A promising design for a natural gas power plant with nearly 100 percent carbon capture will enter the demonstration phase next year and could be commercialized soon after. And agricultural advances are leading to more sustainable crops able to sequester more carbon dioxide in their root systems.
Stronger efforts by cities will also be critical to filling the gap. A growing number of cities are working to improve the energy efficiency of residential and commercial buildings, which account for for 41 percent of total U.S. energy consumption. Greater adoption of Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs, which help finance energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, could significantly reduce city energy demand. Similarly, city programs to build out infrastructure to increase the adoption rate of electric vehicles will, in-time, appreciably lower transportation-related emissions.
Companies, too, will play a key role. Twelve leading companies signed the C2ES statement calling on governments to quickly join the Paris climate pact and pledging to work with countries toward the domestic measures needed to achieve their national emissions-cutting contributions. More than 150 U.S. companies with a combined market capitalization in excess of $7 trillion joined the American Business Act on Climate Pledge – committing to reduce emissions, increase renewable power, or finance climate efforts. And the White House is calling on more companies to join the initiative.
The United States has significantly reduced its greenhouse gas emissions over the past decade. Cutting emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 is a challenging goal. But many options remain untapped, and concerted efforts across multiple fronts can get us across the goal line.
Secondary Carbon Markets
Many state regulators are considering carbon trading as a compliance option with the Clean Power Plan. An important part of carbon trading is the secondary carbon market—the market among private sector buyers and sellers that arises to provide more efficient price discovery, price-hedging opportunities, and satisfy compliance demand. This fact sheet provides a brief overview of the role of different types of secondary market participants and key policy choices that need to be made to allow secondary markets under the Clean Power Plan.
Approaches to Structuring a High Ambient Temperature Exemption
By Steve Seidel, Jennifer Huang, and Stephen O. Andersen
As parties to the Montreal Protocol consider an amendment to phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), one critical concern is whether suitable alternatives for air-conditioning applications are available and adequately demonstrated for cooling capacity and energy efficiency under conditions of high ambient temperatures. Given the critical importance of these applications, one option being considered by parties is to provide a time-limited exemption for those uses in countries that could be adversely impacted by high ambient temperatures. This paper looks at a number of options for how such an exemption might be structured.
|Source: International Energy Agency|
For the second year in a row, the global economy grew and global carbon dioxide emissions did not.
Preliminary data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) indicate that energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions (from burning fossil fuels for electricity, transportation, industry, space heating and so on) remained unchanged from the previous two years at around 32.1 billion metric tons. Meanwhile, economic growth increased by more than 3 percent for the second consecutive year.
A couple years of data doesn’t necessarily translate into a trend. And continued ambition in the decades ahead - like we saw with the landmark Paris Agreement in December 2015 - will be required before we can announce that we have truly turned the corner on reducing CO2 emissions.
But the IEA noted that 90 percent of new electric generation in 2015 came from renewables. Yes, 90 percent. And this apparent decoupling – after decades of energy-related CO2 emissions moving in lockstep with economic growth -- is a positive sign that low-carbon policies may finally be gaining traction in many parts of the world.
The change is due to policies and market forces affecting two factors – energy intensity and fuel mix – both in China and in the developed economies.
The following was published in the February 2016 edition of Biores, a publication of the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development.
By Anthony Mansell, International Fellow, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES)
The new climate deal includes several provisions relevant to market-based emissions reductions efforts.
At a UN conference in Paris, France in December countries agreed to a new framework for international cooperation on climate change. The “Paris Agreement” ties together nationally determined contributions (NDCs) with international rules and procedures to ensure transparency and promote rising ambition. Paris also provided a future for international market mechanisms as a tool for countries to fulfil their NDCs.
Many NDCs submitted as part of the Paris process demonstrate an enthusiasm for market approaches. Sixty-five governments say they will use international markets and another 24 will consider using them in the future. Many groups such as the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition (CPLC) urged support in Paris for the use of market mechanisms and a ministerial declaration issued by 18 governments at the close of the conference was designed to send “a clear signal to the global carbon market…that there is an important role for markets in the post-2020 period.”
The Paris Agreement includes provisions that can advance carbon markets in two ways: by ensuring there is no double counting when countries engage in emissions trading, and by establishing a new mechanism to facilitate trading. In both areas, however, the text provides only broad parameters and important details remain to be decided. This article addresses the current state of carbon markets, their history in international climate agreements, and relevant provisions of the Paris deal – including issues still to be negotiated before it comes into effect.
Carbon market context
Carbon pricing is currently in place in 38 jurisdictions, according to the World Bank, encompassing both carbon taxes and emissions trading schemes (ETS). A number of additional policies are scheduled to enter force between now and 2020 including carbon taxes planned for Chile and South Africa. Ontario will develop an ETS similar to neighbouring Québec and US states Washington and Oregon are considering the same. In terms of scale, the most significant will be a new national ETS in 2017 across China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter.
Not all carbon market programmes seek to trade internationally; some focus solely on domestic emission reductions. Nevertheless, bottom-up linkages are already occurring. For example, California and Québec have linked their cap-and-trade programs, making carbon allowances and offsets fungible between programs. There are also ongoing discussions in California about using sector-based offsets that reduce deforestation – known as REDD+ – from Acre, Brazil and Chiapas, Mexico. The EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) and Swiss ETS have agreed a link, pending ratification by each.
In addition, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is to decide by the end of this year on the design of a global market-based mechanism (MBM) to reduce emissions from aviation. The MBM would come into force in 2020, around the same time the Paris Agreement aims to be in place.
History of international market mechanisms
Market-based approaches are not referred to in the founding 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) document, but were integral to the design of its first sub-agreement, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
Under Kyoto, participating developed countries have binding emission limits – “quantified emission limitation and reduction commitments” – inscribed in Annex B of the agreement. They are allocated “assigned amount units” (AAUs) in line with those targets and, to enable least-cost emission reduction, are permitted to trade AAUs and other certified emission units.
Kyoto established three methods for transferring units – either emission allowances or emission reductions – between countries. International Emissions Trading (IET) allows countries that have reduced emissions below their targets to sell excess allowances to countries whose emissions exceed their targets. Joint Implementation (JI) allows Annex B countries to earn emission reduction units (ERUs) through emission reduction or removal projects in other Annex B countries. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) allows Annex B countries to earn certified emission reduction (CERs) credits through emissions-reduction projects in developing countries.
Emissions trading under the Kyoto Protocol relies on international oversight. All transfers are tracked using a registry called the International Transaction Log (ITL). A common accounting standard applies to all countries with emission targets. An executive board must approve the methodology CDM projects propose using. Finally, under the Protocol, only the international transfers it sanctions are considered legitimate to fulfil a country’s emissions-cutting obligations.
The Kyoto model provides important infrastructure for an international carbon market. Common accounting procedures ensure that any transfer meets an internationally agreed level of environmental integrity. An AAU allocated to Switzerland represents a metric tonne of emissions measured using the same standard as an AAU allocated to Norway. Common offset methodologies give a blueprint to replicate in projects across the globe. The CDM has been able to issue 1.4 billion credits – each representing a metric tonne of avoided emissions – and mobilise over US$400 billion in investment using this international rulebook for managing offset projects. Moreover, when countries submit their national GHG inventories, any recorded transfers can be verified by checking the international registry thereby reducing the potential for emissions double counting.
The Kyoto Protocol's market mechanisms have, however, lately encountered shrinking participation. One reason has been a reliance on the EU ETS as a source of demand, where low economic growth and restrictions placed on the types of credits has created a generous oversupply of CDM credits.
The Paris Agreement and carbon markets
The Paris Agreement establishes a fundamentally different framework from Kyoto. Rather than binding emission limits, which readily lend themselves to market approaches, the new climate regime requires all parties to undertake nationally determined contributions of their own choosing. As of writing, 187 countries had put forward NDCs, presenting various 2020-2030 target reduction dates. These contributions are not legally binding and come in many forms, ranging from absolute economy-wide targets to peaking years, carbon intensity reductions, and so on. A new transparency system will apply to all parties, but will be less prescriptive than the accounting of AAUs that underpinned the Kyoto Protocol.
Fitting market approaches into this new landscape poses a different set of challenges. In a literal sense, the Paris Agreement is silent on markets, in that the term does not feature in the text. This is not unusual, the Kyoto Protocol also did not include the term. Instead, the new agreement houses markets under Article 6, geared towards addressing “voluntary cooperation” between parties in achieving their NDCs.
Article 6 recognises that parties may choose to pursue voluntary cooperation in implementing their NDCs. If these “cooperative approaches” involve the use of “internationally transferred mitigation outcomes,” or ITMOs, robust accounting shall be used to avoid double counting. The use of ITMOs are voluntary and authorised by participating parties.
The same article also establishes a mechanism to contribute to GHG mitigation and support sustainable development. The new mechanism will be under the authority of meeting of parties to the Paris Agreement. It has four listed aims including to promote greenhouse gas mitigation while fostering sustainable development; incentivise and facilitate participation by public and private entities who are authorised by a party; contribute to reduction of emissions level in host country, which can also be used by another party to fulfil its NDC; and deliver an overall reduction in global emissions. In addition, emission reductions occurring from the new mechanism must not be double counted. A share of proceeds will be used to cover administrative expenses and assist developing countries to meet the costs of adaptation, which is similar to the share of proceeds under the CDM, a portion of which was channelled to the Adaptation Fund. Article 6.8 and 6.9 contain a framework for promoting “integrated, holistic and balanced non-market approaches.”
So what comes next? When the CDM, JI, and IET were established under the Kyoto Protocols, the details were not finalised until the Marrakech Accords four years later. Similarly, the COP21 outcome sets a work plan for negotiators to deliberate and decide how the Paris system will work, to be addressed in upcoming UNFCCC meetings.
Cooperative approaches accounting
The existing UNFCCC accounting system is bifurcated between developed and developing economies. Under the Convention, GHG inventories are required each year for industrialised countries, while these are included in national communications submitted every four years for developing nations.
The Paris Agreement establishes an “enhanced transparency framework for action and support,” with built-in flexibility to take into account national capacities. Under this framework each party must submit a national greenhouse gas inventory. An accompanying decision elaborates that all countries – except least developed countries and small island developing states – shall provide these inventories at least biennially.
On markets the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technologic Advice (SBSTA) will develop and recommend guidance on how to apply “robust accounting” for cooperative approaches, for adoption at the first session of governing body of the Paris Agreement, known as the CMA . Countries will need to be “consistent” with this guidance, but not necessarily follow it strictly. How to determine if a country’s accounting is consistent is not clarified in the Paris agreement, though it will likely be reviewed as part of the new transparency system.
Pending decisions will provide greater clarity on a number of issues. On ITMOs, it will be useful to define the scope of what can be considered a “mitigation outcome” transferred between countries. Under Kyoto, AAUs serve as a unit of account for transferring obligations, but also define the scope of accepted international transfers. In other words, only transfers involving AAUs are accepted when submitting national GHG accounts. Parties will also need to consider whether other forms of co-operation – such as Japan’s Joint Crediting Mechanism (JCM), which is similar to the CDM, or the bilateral linking of two ETSs –would be considered ITMOs. Transfers involving one or more countries without absolute economy-wide targets could complicate the methodology needed to avoid double counting.
On the accounting system, the CMA could take an active role in facilitating transfers, including through a central registry similar to the ITL. Alternatively, in a more decentralised system, it may require that parties maintain their own accounting – such as double-entry bookkeeping – and rely on the transparency arrangements to provide oversight. The provision referencing ITMOs also requires parties to “promote sustainable development and ensure environmental integrity.” The SBSTA guidelines will need to define these terms and how countries will meet them when undertaking transfers.
Another accompanying COP decision recommends that the CMA adopt “rules, modalities, and procedures” for the new mechanism at its first session. The parameters for these are: voluntary participation authorised by each party involved; real, measurable, and long-term benefits related to the mitigation of climate change; specific scope of activities; reductions in emissions that are additional to any that would otherwise occur; verification and certification of emission reductions resulting from mitigation activities by designated operational entities; experience gained with and lessons learned from existing mechanisms and approach adopted under the Convention.
This leaves much to be hammered out by governments. A key area to address will be the type of system. The new mechanism may continue to credit at a project level. A Brazilian proposal in Paris envisioned a mechanism similar in scale to the CDM, referred to as an “enhanced CDM,” or “CDM+.” Conversely, in prior discussions for a “new market mechanism” (NMM), both the EU and the Environmental Integrity Group negotiating group have proposed a scaled-up or sector-based crediting mechanism.
The future of the Kyoto flexibility mechanisms is also unclear, in particular whether the new mechanism will succeed the CDM and JI, or will sit alongside either of these. The Paris Agreement does not mention the CDM or JI, but notes that the new mechanism should draw on the experience gained from existing mechanisms. Similarly, it is unclear whether units generated under the Kyoto mechanisms will be eligible for compliance after 2020 and if so, whether they will need to be converted to an alternative credit type to conform with credits issues under the new mechanism.
Negotiators may also decide to transfer project methodologies over from the CDM to apply to the new mechanism, discard some of these existing approaches, or move away from project level crediting altogether as noted above. They may also consider other methodologies used outside the UNFCCC. Finally, the Paris Agreement frames sustainable development on a par with GHG mitigation, so parties may require measured sustainable development outcomes to be eligible for crediting.
Parties will need to decide on governance arrangements for the new mechanism. The CDM is managed by an Executive Board of ten government officials, comprising one member from each of the five UN regional groups, two other members from parties included in Annex I, two other members from non-Annex I parties, and one representative of the small island developing states. Similarly, JI has a supervisory committee (JISC) to oversee the verification of projects. The new mechanism could incorporate governance from either of these existing platforms.Guidance on rules and procedures will also need to be clarified. The CDM and JI have existing procedures for developing projects that are ultimately credited. Countries could transfer these rules to the new mechanism or adopt new procedures.
Given the breadth of views across governments on the role of market mechanisms, reaching conclusions on these issues will be challenging. The slow progress since 2011 in the UNFCCC toward a “framework for various approaches” (FVA) and NMM demonstrated the difficulties in gaining consensus on the subject. Nevertheless the importance afforded to international markets by many countries in their NDCs implies there is a strong impetus to find a workable system for international transfers.
Efforts beyond UNFCCC
It is possible that initiatives undertaken outside the UNFCCC will inform efforts within. The Carbon Market Platform established under the G7, for example, is a strategic political dialogue that can complement the UNFCCC in developing guidance on accounting for international transfers. The system that ICAO builds could seek consistency with the Paris Agreement. For example, it would be beneficial if credits used for compliance in the UNFCCC and ICAO are fungible, to prevent project developers choosing between separate customers. It remains to be decided what types of international credits will be used for compliance in the ICAO MBM, but this should take into account the emergence of the new mechanism. In addition, the accounting system used by ICAO should at least be consistent with that used under the Paris system, insofar as this would avoid the double counting of units used for compliance in both ICAO and the UNFCCC.
Paris reaffirmed carbon markets as an instrument for meeting climate goals. Outside of the agreement itself, groups such as the CPLC are building strong momentum for market approaches as a key component to meeting the mitigation targets set by NDCs. COP21 did not, however, finalise a new system of international carbon markets or cooperative approaches. Accounting for ITMOs and other forms of voluntary cooperation require elaboration and guidance. The role of the new mechanism remains to be negotiated. And if these talks become stalled, as was the case for the FVA/NMM deliberations, interested countries may pursue bottom-up linkages elsewhere rather than continue to search for solutions within the UN climate talks. The pace and extent of progress under the UNFCCC will determine how central a role multilateral platforms will play on these issues in the future and the prospects of a truly global carbon market.
Increased extreme weather and climate-related impacts are imposing significant costs on communities and companies alike. While some businesses are taking steps to assess and address climate risks, many face internal and external challenges to building climate resilience.
In a new report, Weathering the Next Storm: A Closer Look at Business Resilience, released at Climate Week NYC, C2ES examined how major global companies are preparing for climate risks, and what is keeping them from doing more.
C2ES reviewed public disclosures of S&P Global 100 companies, conducted in-depth interviews, and held workshops with business leaders, government officials, academics and other stakeholders. Key findings include:
Major companies recognize and report climate risks.
We found 91 of the world’s largest 100 companies see extreme weather and other climate impacts as business risks. Business leaders see climate risks firsthand – in damaged facilities, interrupted power and water supplies, disrupted supply and distribution chains, and impacts on their employees’ lives.
Most (84 companies) discussed climate risk concerns in CDP questionnaires. Fewer companies did so in their sustainability reports (47) or financial filings (40).
More companies are assessing their vulnerabilities.
The vast majority of companies rely on existing risk management or business continuity planning to address climate risks.
Many see climate change as a “threat magnifier” that exacerbates risks they already know and understand. This lens puts climate change into a familiar business context, but companies could overlook or underestimate the threats they face.
The federal Clean Power Plan gives each state the flexibility to use its own ideas on how best to reduce greenhouse gases from the power sector. One proven, cost-effective approach is to use market forces to drive innovation and efficiency.
The options available to states go beyond creating or joining a cap-and-trade program or instituting a carbon tax. Pieces can be put in place, such as common definitions, measurement and verification processes, so that states or companies could be in a position to trade within their state or across borders. Modest programs that allow companies to trade carbon credits could be explored.
In an op-ed published in The Hill, Anthony Earley, CEO of California energy company PG&E, and C2ES President Bob Perciasepe urge states to give these options serious thought.
Read The Hill op-ed.
Statement of Bob Perciasepe
President, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
August 2, 2015
On the release Monday of the final Clean Power Plan to reduce U.S. power plant emissions.
The administration is doing what science and the law demand, and it’s now up to the states. The smart ones will see this as an opportunity, not a threat – a chance to modernize their economies and energy infrastructure.
I know from my conversations with state leaders and utility CEOs that even those who may openly oppose the rules are thinking hard about how to meet them. And many are very interested in the types of incentive and market-based approaches EPA is encouraging. It behooves every state to sit down with stakeholders – mayors, consumers, businesses – and craft a plan that fits it best. States should take advantage of the opportunity to innovate and make their economies stronger and more sustainable.
The final plan will give states the time needed to craft strong plans and achieve interim targets, provide incentives to increase renewable power and help low-income communities improve energy efficiency, and encourage cost-effective, market-based approaches to reducing emissions.
Many states and businesses are already taking action and demonstrating leadership. Years from now I’m sure we’ll see this as a pivotal moment accelerating the clean energy transition that is already underway.
We’re coming to grips with the rising risks of climate change and laying the foundation for a low-carbon future. The quicker states put their heads together with utilities, businesses, and cities to figure out the smartest approaches, the sooner we’ll get there.
To talk to a C2ES expert, contact: Laura Rehrmann, email@example.com or 703-516-0621.
About C2ES: The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization promoting strong policy and action to address our climate and energy challenges. Learn more at www.c2es.org.