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International Emissions Trading & Global Climate Change: Impacts on the Cost of Greenhouse Gas Mitigation

International Emissions Trading & Global Climate Change:  Impacts on the Cost of Greenhouse Gas Mitigation

Prepared for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change
December 1999

Jae Edmonds, Michael J. Scott, Joseph M. Roop, and Christopher N. MacCracken, Battelle, Washington, DC

Press Release

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Eileen Claussen, President, Pew Center on Global Climate Change

Several factors influence the costs of greenhouse gas mitigation. This report illustrates the importance of one such factor—international emissions trading—in reducing the costs of carbon control. The authors find that an international greenhouse gas emissions trading regime will significantly lower global mitigation costs. Specifically, the report finds:

  • The costs of controlling carbon emissions would be significantly lower if trade is permitted than if each country is required to meet its obligations alone.
  • Providing greater flexibility in trading mechanisms—for example, allowing trading among various greenhouse gases and across emissions sources, and allowing trades to occur over time—lowers the costs.
  • Emissions trading reduces the potential for "leakage" of jobs, industry, and emissions compared to a control case with no trading because changes in world fuel prices would be moderated through the availability of trading.
  • While broader participation in trading is likely to yield greater benefits, any amount of trading will lower the costs for those participating. If a climate policy regime is in place that allows emissions trading, all parties—with or without obligations—are better off trading than not.
  • Issues of program design and institutional structure must be addressed carefully to realize the full economic potential of trading regimes.
  • By making transparent the core structure and assumptions of economic models, the Pew Center hopes to provide policy-makers and consumers of economic information with tools to better understand the important assumptions driving the models’ projections of costs.

This report is the first in a series designed to explore how economic models address the climate change issue. The first phase of this effort will make a direct and significant contribution to economic modeling in the following four areas: (1) review of existing models and identification of their key assumptions; (2) investigation of the models’ theoretical frameworks; (3) encouraging best practices in modeling specific aspects of the climate change issue; and (4) integrating innovative modeling practices into a state-of-the-art assessment of the costs of climate change and the policies used to address it.

The second phase of the Pew Center’s economics program will focus on how businesses react to climate change—and policies to ameliorate it—in the context of sound business strategy and practice. The Center is in a unique position to provide insight into the inner working of firms through the participation of our Business Environmental Leadership Council.

The Center and authors appreciate the valuable input of several reviewers of previous drafts of this paper, including Ev Ehrlich, Judi Greenwald, Eric Haites, Elizabeth Malone, and others.

Executive Summary

One of the earliest and most robust findings of economics is that, where relative costs of performing an activity differ among individuals, business firms, or regions, there are almost always potential gains from trade. In today’s jargon, trade can always be win-win. Traditional approaches to addressing environmental problems have generally not taken advantage of this potential. Rather, command and control regulatory policy instruments have been the tools of choice. While these tools can be effective in reaching an environmental goal, they can also be expensive. Recently environmental policy-makers have begun to explore ways of obtaining more environmental benefits per dollar expended, and the use of emissions trading has been on the cutting edge of these efforts. Because climate change is an issue that requires a sustained policy commitment over the course of a century, attention to the cost of policy intervention is especially important. This paper explores the degree to which trade among parties to an international agreement can reduce the cost of greenhouse gas reductions.

International trade holds the potential of reducing costs of controlling world emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) because the nations of the world experience very different costs for achieving emissions reductions on their own. However, the potential gains from trade, like the costs of compliance themselves, may be very unevenly distributed across the world’s participants. While all of the parties to an agreement stand to gain collectively under trade in emissions rights as compared with "independent compliance" (i.e., each country meeting its obligations alone), non-participants in the agreement may either benefit or not depending on their own particular circumstances. The detailed rules for trading affect how effective trading could be, as well as the level of gains that would be captured in practice. Details of the trading rules will influence both the total gains from trade and distribution of such gains. Key issues include definitions of the emissions rights to be traded, the rules for crediting carbon sinks, and regulations governing participation in the trading framework. In addition, there are economic uncertainties, such as the behavior of countries that have significant market power in supplying emissions credits, and the transaction costs associated with trading and enforcement. These effects could significantly increase the costs of mitigation compared to the most favorable case and could reduce the amount and benefits of trading.

A number of global economic models have been used to estimate the effects of emissions trading. Empirical results derived from these models can be summarized as follows:

  • Costs of controlling carbon emissions would be significantly lower if trade in carbon emissions allowances were permitted than if each nation had to meet its emissions reduction responsibilities alone. The broader the trade possibilities, the lower the costs of control.
  • All parties with GHG emissions mitigation obligations benefit from trade. Both permit buyers and permit sellers will benefit.
  • Parties without obligations may be better or worse off under a trading regime relative to a regime that does not allow trading. However, given a regime that allows trading among parties with obligations, parties without obligations will be better off trading (i.e., selling emissions reductions) than not trading.
  • Because the costs of fuels could be affected by emissions control and emissions trading, countries and regions may be affected whether or not they participate in emissions reduction and in emissions trading. Parties without obligations may be either better off or worse off after obligations are established for others. For example, if emissions trading is prohibited, the prices paid to fossil fuel producers are reduced, and the energy-exporting countries are worse off relative to a no-control case. Emissions trading mitigates this effect. Results for other non-participating regions are more ambiguous.
  • Gains from trade are sensitive to the difference between the base case and target emissions and to the difference in marginal (incremental) abatement costs among countries. For any limit to emissions, the higher the future level of emissions is expected to be without intervention, the more difficult and costly mitigation is expected to be. Although the gains from trade depend on the differences between countries’ marginal abatement costs, not their absolute level, the analysis in this paper shows that the gains from trade are larger for more ambitious emissions targets.
  • The actual cost savings from trade in emissions are likely to be less than the theoretical savings shown in most analyses performed with integrated assessment models because these models do not include the various measurement, verification, trading, and enforcement costs that would characterize any real trading system. Programs must be carefully designed to assure that the potential gains from trade are realized.
Christopher N. MacCracken
Jae Edmonds
Joseph M. Roop
Michael J. Scott

Early Action Conference

Promoted in Energy Efficiency section: 

Early Action Conference

The Pew Center on Global Climate Change, in cooperation with The H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, held a conference to explore the subject of credit for early action. The conference featured a keynote address by DuPont Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Dennis H. Reilley, announcing the company's rigorous new greenhouse gas reduction targets. Another conference highlight was luncheon speaker Robert Luft, Chairman of Entergy Corp., speaking on the importance of an early action crediting program in the United States to facilitate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

The conference offered an overview of the early action issue from the perspectives of various industry sectors (including oil and gas, and manufacturing), electric utility, Congressional staff, state and city government; a review of current proposals; and roundtable discussions of the legal, policy, and technical issues that confront the architects of early action programs. Valuable participation by the audience contributed to a balanced and well-informed discussion.

Keynote Address by Dennis H. Reilley
Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, DuPont

DuPont Announcement Press Release

Luncheon Speech by Robert Luft
Chairman, Entergy Corp.

Pew Center Early Action Report

Economics and Integrated Assessment of Climate Change Workshop

Promoted in Energy Efficiency section: 

July 21-22, 1999
The Westin Hotel, Washington, DC

List of Attendees (pdf)

On July 21-22, 1999, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change held a Workshop on the Economics and Integrated Assessment of Climate Change. This workshop brought together leading economists, scientists, and others interested in climate change economics and policy. The purpose of the workshop was to examine the complex interactions between the climate change problem and the economy, focusing in particular on the integrated assessment modeling of climate change.

Market Mechanisms & Global Climate Change

Market Mechanisms & Global Climate Change

Annie Petsonk, Daniel J. Dudek and Joseph Goffman, Environmental Defense Fund,
in cooperation with the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

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Eileen Claussen, Executive Director, Pew Center on Global Climate Change
There is growing evidence that providing businesses and consumers with market-based mechanisms for addressing environmental problems can achieve equal or better compliance while reducing costs and spurring technological innovation. In the context of climate change, countries have agreed to use several market-based mechanisms in implementing greenhouse gas emissions reductions-from emissions trading similar to that used in the United States to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions to more experimental measures such as joint implementation and the Clean Development Mechanism.

This report, which analyzes market-based environmental policy instruments, is the third in a series by the Center. The Pew Center was established in 1998 by the Pew Charitable Trusts, one of the nation's largest philanthropies and an influential voice in efforts to improve the quality of America's environment. The Center brings a new cooperative approach and critical scientific, economic and technological expertise to the global climate change debate. The report was prepared as an input for the participants of two international conferences designed to promote a trans-Atlantic dialogue on market-based instruments and their use in mitigating global climate change. Recognizing the critical role of business in both shaping and applying market-based mechanisms, the Pew Center is working to bring businesses from both the United States and Europe together to discuss ways to do so.

The report reviews U.S. and European experience with market-based mechanisms and the ways the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change utilizes these mechanisms. The report finds that properly designed rules for the operation of these mechanisms can provide economic and environmental integrity and signal to business and governments that any trades undertaken in accordance with the system will be valid and of value. Key elements to the success of such a system will be measurement, transparency, accountability, fungibility and consistency.

The Pew Center and its Business Environmental Leadership Council believe that climate change is serious business. Implementing emissions trading and other market-based mechanisms will be part of a serious response to the climate change problem.

Executive Summary

This paper has been developed with a view toward promoting trans-Atlantic dialogues on market mechanisms for environmental protection. While the overarching topic for dialogue is the full panoply of environmental problems for which market mechanisms may be considered, this paper is prepared in the context of increasing global attention to the problem of climate change. The November 1998 Buenos Aires Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change provides an example of the international focus on market mechanisms among governments, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations around the world.

This paper reviews market mechanisms for environmental protection, with special focus on emissions trading. Emissions trading programs place an overall limit on the amount of emissions that sources may emit, and then allow sources a degree of flexibility to determine where, when, and how to meet their total limits. Emissions trading programs provide this flexibility by allocating to sources a fixed amount of emissions allowances; any source that reduces emissions below allowable levels may save the resulting allowance increment to offset future emissions, or sell the increment to another source who may add the increment to its allowances. Compliance is determined solely by comparing actual emissions to allowable amounts.

The paper notes that five elements are essential for providing environmental and economic integrity in such programs: measurement, transparency, accountability, fungibility, and consistency. In reviewing the experiences of the U.S., New Zealand, and Europe, the paper finds that harnessing the competitive forces of the market-place in favor of pollution reduction can enable governments, industries, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to reach political consensus about pollution limits. Experience also indicates that when these elements are firmly in place, emissions trading programs can deliver powerful incentives to sources to innovate to develop more environmentally effective and more cost-effective ways of reducing emissions. Trading programs premised on these elements can achieve faster, deeper cuts in pollution, at far less cost than other regulatory instruments.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change seeks to use market mechanisms to limit the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) that are contributing to changes in the global climate. The paper examines the Kyoto Protocol framework for an innovative international market in GHG emissions reductions. The Protocol places a legally binding limit on the allowable amount of GHG emissions from most industrialized countries for the period 2008-2012. It then affords these nations the opportunity to trade allowable amounts of emissions, either directly or in conjunction with joint emissions reduction projects. It further allows these nations to implement their obligations collectively, through shared arrangements known as "bubbles" or "umbrellas."And the Protocol invites the participation of nations that have not adopted a legally binding GHG limit: it allows a limited form of trading between nations with limits and those without, where the trading involves emissions reductions obtained through cooperative projects in the latter group of nations.

The paper notes that the Kyoto Protocol respects the sovereignty of each participating nation to determine how best to implement its international obligations at the domestic level, and whether, in so doing, it should allow its private sector to participate in the international emissions trading market. The Protocol leaves open the development of internationally agreed rules to provide the transparency, the accountability, and-particularly in the case of trading with nations lacking limits on GHG emissions-the measurability that may be key to the Protocol's success. Further, the Protocol allows each nation that adopts emissions limits to decide whether to initiate programs prior to 2008 that will provide recognition and incentives for early actions to reduce emissions. The Protocol does not address the question of whether nations will, individually or collectively, place quantitative or qualitative restrictions on emissions trading.

After exploring the theory of market mechanisms, examining their implementation in selected cases, and analyzing the market elements of the Kyoto Protocol, the paper draws on lessons learned from practical experience in order to identify and evaluate options on the questions left open by the Protocol. The paper indicates that for environmental and economic effectiveness, experience weighs in favor of a limited set of rules-carefully drawn to foster measurement, transparency, accountability, fungibility, and consistency-and weighs against imposing further restrictions on the market mechanisms.

This paper includes a compilation and synthesis drawn from the sources and materials listed in Appendix I. The authors, Annie Petsonk, Daniel J. Dudek, and Joseph Goffman, are, respectively, International Counsel, Senior Economist, and Senior Attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund. The authors wish to acknowledge the insights gleaned from conversations with Christoph Bals, Marianne Ginsburg, Anke Herold, Jos Cozijnsen, Jennifer Morgan, Sascha Müller-Kraenner, Hermann Ott, John Schmitz, and Jonathan Wiener. Any errors or omissions are solely the responsibility of the authors.

This report was one input into two conferences on market-based mechanisms, which were held on 23 and 27 October, 1998, in Bonn and Paris. The conferences provided an important forum in which participants, including representatives of businesses, non-governmental organizations, and governments, shared practical experience about the use of market mechanisms, and provided valuable insights about the trans-Atlantic context for consideration of the report's findings.

Annie Petsonk
Daniel J. Dudek
Joseph Goffman
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