Cap And Trade Collapses

  • Date: 18/04/13
  • Editorial, The Wall Street Journal

One of the great policy bubbles of our times has been cap and trade for carbon emissions, and on Tuesday it may have popped for good. The European Parliament refused to save the EU’s failing program, which is the true-believer equivalent of the pope renouncing celibacy.

The Parliament in Strasbourg voted 334-315 (with 63 abstentions) against propping up the price of carbon credits in the EU Emissions Trading System. The failed proposal would have delayed the scheduled sale of 900 million ETS permits over the next seven years, thereby suppressing supply. After carbon traders realized they weren’t getting more artificial scarcity, they drove the price of emissions permits down by 40% at one point on Tuesday.

EU carbon permit prices have collapsed as the Continent’s economic crisis curbs energy demand. Utilities and industrial firms have less need to emit CO2 above their statutory limits. Total emissions in the EU fell by nearly 10% between 2007-2011, according the most recent data. The low price of carbon allowances is good for consumers who don’t have to absorb the extra regulatory cost in what they pay for energy.

Anticarbon crusaders never give up, however, so they wanted the Parliament to intervene to prop up permit prices. They want higher-than-market prices for fossil fuels because they know that is only way they can force the production of renewable energy that is otherwise uncompetitive. The Parliament majority rightly judged that raising energy prices for companies and households is ludicrous when Europe is barely growing as it is.

This failed political intervention also gives the lie to the claim that cap and trade is a “market solution” to climate change. Proponents only like the market in permits when it keeps carbon emissions prices high. Cap and trade is an attempt to use brute political force to limit the supply of carbon energy.

All of which vindicates the Bush Administration and others who opposed cap and trade in the Kyoto Protocol. Aided by Al Gore, Europe tried to turn cap and trade into a global policy. The hot air started to go out of Kyoto after its early backers refused to implement job-killing legislation to meet emissions targets. It lost further support when it became clear that financial firms were gaming the system.

With the U.S. shale fracking revolution, it’s now clear that the fastest way to reduce greenhouse gases is to let private drillers expand natural gas production. When even Europe recognizes the folly of artificially raising energy prices, the anticarbon obsessives have lost in their own climate-change temple.

The Wall Street Journal, 19 April 2013