The European Union's Emissions Trading System in Perspective


The European Union's Emissions Trading System in Perspective

Prepared for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change
May 2008

By:
A. Denny Ellerman,
Paul L. Joskow

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Press Release

Watch report author Denny Ellerman on E&ETV

Download entire report (PDF)

Download overview presentation (PDF)

Foreword

 

Eileen Claussen, President, Pew Center on Global Climate Change

To meet its obligations to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations under the Kyoto Protocol, the European Union (EU) established the first cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide emissions in the world starting in 2005. Proposed in October 2001, the EU’s Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) was up and running just over three years later. The first three-year trading period (2005-2007)—a trial period before Kyoto’s obligations began—is now complete and, not surprisingly, has been heavily scrutinized. This report examines the development, structure, and performance of the EU-ETS to date, and provides insightful analysis regarding the controversies and lessons emerging from the initial trial phase.

Recognizing their lack of experience with cap and trade and the need to build knowledge and program architecture, EU leaders began by covering only one gas (carbon dioxide) and a limited number of sectors. Once the infrastructure was in place, other GHGs and sectors could be included in subsequent phases of the program, when more significant emissions reductions were needed. As authors Denny Ellerman and Paul Joskow describe, the system has so far worked as it was envisioned—a European-wide carbon price was established, businesses began incorporating this price into their decision-making, and the market infrastructure for a multi-national trading program is now in place. Moreover, despite the condensed time period of the trial phase, some reductions in emissions from the covered sectors were realized.

The development of the EU-ETS has not, however, proceeded without its challenges. The authors explain some of the controversies regarding the early performance of the EU-ETS and describe potential remedies planned for later compliance periods:

  • Due to a lack of accurate data in advance of the program, allowances to emitters were overallocated. Now with more accurate emissions data and a centralized cap-setting and reporting process, the emissions cap should be sufficiently binding;
  • Concerns about program volatility emerged when initially high allowances prices (driven largely by high global energy costs) dropped precipitously in April 2006 upon the release of more accurate, verified emissions data. Late in the trial phase, there was another sharp decline in allowance price because there were no provisions for banking emissions reductions for use in the second phase of the program. Improved data quality and provisions for unrestricted banking between compliance periods will help moderate price fluctuations in the future;
  • Windfall profits by electric power generators that passed along costs (based on market value) of their freely issued allowances resulted in improved understanding of how member country electricity sector regulations affect the market and calls for increased auctioning in subsequent phases of the program.

Interest in developing a national cap-and-trade program in the United States has intensified in recent years. The first comprehensive greenhouse gas reduction bill ever to be reported out of a committee emerged from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in December 2007. As debate continues on this landmark legislation, the House of Representatives has signaled its intention to design its own emissions trading program. This report provides an excellent resource for those developing U.S. proposals. As Europe’s experience with the EU-ETS suggests, everything does not have to be perfect at the outset of a cap-and-trade program. We do, however, need to get started and, for this, the EU-ETS has provided valuable lessons for us all.

The Center and the authors would like to thank Robert Stavins and Peter Zapfel for comments and suggestions on earlier drafts. None of them are responsible for the analysis, conclusions or any remaining errors. The views expressed here are solely those of the authors.

Executive Summary

The performance of the European Union’s Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) to date cannot be evaluated without recognizing that the first three years from 2005 through 2007 constituted a “trial” period and understanding what this trial period was supposed to accomplish. Its primary goal was to develop the infrastructure and to provide the experience that would enable the successful use of a cap-and-trade system to limit European GHG emissions during a second trading period, 2008-12, corresponding to the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. The trial period was a rehearsal for the later more serious engagement and it was never intended to achieve significant reductions in CO2 emissions in only three years. In light of the speed with which the program was developed, the many sovereign countries involved, the need to develop the necessary data, information dissemination, compliance and market institutions, and the lack of extensive experience with emissions trading in Europe, we think that the system has performed surprisingly well.

Although there have been plenty of rough edges, a transparent and widely accepted price for tradable CO2 emission allowances emerged by January 1, 2005, a functioning market for allowances has developed quickly and effortlessly without any prodding by the Commission or member state governments, the cap-and-trade infrastructure of market institutions, registries, monitoring, reporting and verification is in place, and a significant segment of European industry is incorporating the price of CO2 emissions into their daily production decisions.

The development of the EU ETS and the experience with the trial period provides a number of useful lessons for the U.S. and other countries.



  • Suppliers quickly factor the price of emissions allowances into their pricing and output behavior.
     
  • Liquid bilateral markets and public allowance exchanges emerge rapidly and the “law of one price” for allowances with the same attributes prevails.
     
  • The development of efficient allowance markets is facilitated by the frequent dissemination of information about emissions and allowance utilization.
     
  • Allowance price volatility can be dampened by including allowance banking and borrowing and by allocating allowances for longer trading periods.
     
  • The redistributive aspects of the allocation process can be handled without distorting abatement efficiency or competition despite the significant political maneuvering over allowance allocations. However, allocations that are tied to future emissions through investment and closure decisions can distort behavior. 
     
  • The interaction between allowance allocation, allowance markets, and the unsettled state of electricity sector liberalization and regulation must be confronted as part of program design to avoid mistakes and unintended consequences. This will be especially important in the U.S. where 50 percent of the electricity is generated with coal.

The EU ETS provides a useful perspective on the problems to be faced in constructing a global GHG emission trading system. In imagining a multinational system, it seems clear that participating nations will retain significant discretion in deciding tradable national emission caps albeit with some negotiation; separate national registries will be maintained with some arrangement for international transfers; and monitoring, reporting and verification procedures will be administered nationally although necessarily subject to some common standard. All of these issues have had to be addressed in the trial period and they continue to present challenges to European policy makers.

The deeper significance of the trial period of the EU ETS may be its explicit status as a work in progress. As such, it is emblematic of all climate change programs, which will surely be changed over the long horizon during which they will remain effective. The trial period demonstrates that everything does not need to be perfect at the beginning. In fact, it provides a reminder that the best can be the enemy of the good. This admonition is especially applicable in an imperfect world where the income and wealth effects of proposed actions are significant and sovereign nations of widely varying economic circumstance and institutional development are involved. The initial challenge is simply to establish a system that will demonstrate the societal decision that GHG emissions shall have a price and to provide the signal of what constitutes appropriate short-term and long-term measures to limit GHG emissions. In this, the EU has done more with the ETS, despite all its faults, than any other nation or set of nations.

About the Authors

 

Dr. A. Denny Ellerman

A leading energy economist, Dr. Ellerman is a Senior Lecturer with the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he previously served as the Executive Director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research and of the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. Dr. Ellerman is internationally recognized as an authority on emissions trading, and his current research interests focus on the U.S. and European emissions trading programs and on environmental regulations. He is co-author of the report, The European Union’s Emissions Trading System in Perspective, and he coauthored the well-respected text, Markets for Clean Air: The U.S. Acid Rain Program with MIT Sloan colleagues. Dr. Ellerman has also worked for Charles River Associates, the National Coal Association, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the U.S. Executive Office of the President, and he served as President of the International Association for Energy Economics in 1990.

Dr. Ellerman received his undergraduate education at Princeton University and his Ph.D. in Political Economy and Government from Harvard University. His current research interests focus on emissions trading, climate change policy, and the economics of fuel choice, especially concerning coal and natural gas.

Paul L. Joskow

Paul L. Joskow became President of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation on January 1, 2008. He is presently on leave from his position as Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics and Management at MIT. He received a BA from Cornell University in 1968 and a PhD in Economics from Yale University in 1972. Professor Joskow has been on the MIT faculty since 1972 and served as Head of the MIT Department of Economics from 1994 to 1998. He was Director of the MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research from 1999 through 2007. At MIT he has been engaged in teaching and research in the areas of industrial organization, energy and environmental economics, competition policy, and government regulation of industry for over 35 years. Dr. Joskow has published six books and over 125 articles and papers in these areas. He serves as a Director of Exelon Corporation, as a Director of TransCanada Corporation, and as a Trustee of the Putnam Mutual Funds. He is a member of the Board of Overseers of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Dr. Joskow is a Fellow of the Econometric Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Distinguished Fellow of the Industrial Organization Society.