EU Emissions Trading Scheme In Freefall

  • Date: 18/02/13
  • Alex Stott, Chemical & Engineering News

The European Union carbon emissions trading scheme­—the biggest in the world and the heart of Europe’s climate-change program—is in dire straits. The scheme’s carbon price has collapsed. The primary reason: The economic recession has suppressed manufacturing, thereby reducing emissions and creating a huge oversupply of carbon emissions allowances.

A line graph showing the price of carbon allowances in the European Union over time. The numbers trend downward.

Carbon trading is a market approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in which each facility involved is given an emissions cap for the year, and each year that cap is reduced. A firm must record and report its facilities’ emissions and must obtain allowances for its total emissions. An allowance permits a facility to emit 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide or its carbon equivalent; some allowances are given for free by the government, others can be bought at auction or from other firms. …

In recent weeks, however, the EU carbon price dropped to a new low of $5.20 for each metric ton allowance of CO2, down from a high of $23 in 2011. This is despite an annual reduction of the EU emissions cap of 1.74% through 2020 and the introduction on Jan. 1 of a new phase of the scheme requiring companies to purchase allowances.

At its current carbon price, the EU emission scheme’s role in encouraging chemical firms to ditch fossil fuels and adopt greener technologies “is meaningless,” says André Veneman, director of sustainability at AkzoNobel. Many of the industry’s investments in low-carbon technologies that are marginally financially viable also will likely be delayed, he says. Without a strong carbon price, the underlying push to cleantech in the EU will come only from the price of oil, Veneman adds.

Full story