There has been much criticism of the European Emissions Trading Scheme, the world’s most significant cap-and-trade (tradable permits) scheme for curbing greenhouse gas emissions. The main criticism is that the scheme has failed to make significant cuts in pollution. The cap was so loose in the first phase (2005–07) that by the end of this period, carbon was trading for as little as €0.02 per tonne. Although the cap on emissions was tightened by 7 per cent for phase 2 (2008–12) (see Economics, 7th ed, Box 12.5), causing the carbon price to rise to about €30.00 per tonne by mid 2009, since then the price has fallen as industry has cut output in response to the recession. By February 2010, the carbon price was around €12.50 per tonne (see the Guardian article Carbon price falls to new low). For carbon price data see the European Climate Change site.
The experience of the ETS has resulted in many people in the USA and elsewhere calling for the use of carbon taxes rather than cap and trade as the best means for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Others have called for a mix of measures. In the US Senate, three senators are seeking to overturn cap-and-trade proposals and take a sector-by-sector approach to cutting emissions.
But increasingly the evidence, supported by economic argument, is that cap and trade does work – or can be made to work – and that it is a better policy tool than carbon taxes. The following articles look at cap and trade and assess whether it really is the best alternative.
Buying off the big polluters looks bad but it works Sunday Times, Charles Clover (28/2/10)
Economists hail EU emissions trading success BusinessGreen, James Murray (15/2/10)
EU study plumps for cap & trade in ship carbon carbonpositive (17/2/10)
European carbon trading labelled ‘model for the world’ Ecologist (1/3/10)
Cap and Trade vs Carbon Tax – 6 Myths Busted Cleantech Blog (26/2/10)
Senators seen ditching cap and trade in new bill Reuters, Russell Blinch (27/2/10)
Senators to propose abandoning cap-and-trade Washington Post, Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson (27/2/10)
U.S. Senate may scrap Cap and Trade in exchange for Cap and Dividend The Energy Collective, Chris Schultz (27/2/10)
Emissions Trading Wikipedia
- What determines the price of carbon in the ETS? Why was it higher in 2008/9 than in 2007? Why has it fallen in recent months?
- Does it matter that the carbon price fluctuates with the business cycle?
- Explain whether it is better to allocate carbon credits free of charge or auction them.
- Assess whether or not the EU emissions trading scheme has been a success so far.
- Compare the relative merits of a cap-and-trade scheme with carbon taxes.
- What other alternatives are there to cap and trade and carbon taxes as means of curbing emissions? Compare their relative merits.
- What is the best means of curbing carbon emissions from shipping? Explain.
The following video and audio podcasts look at resistance by the US oil and coal industries to measures to curb the consumption of oil and coal. Despite the clearly estabilised link between burning fossil fuels and global warming, many in the two industries reject, or at least question, the evidence. After all, it is in their commerical interests to promote the consumption of fossil fuels!
Elsewhere in the USA, interesting scientific developments are taking place to combat global warming. One measure is the production of ‘green oil’ produced from algae. Growing the algae absorbs carbon from the atmosphere.
In few areas are economic arguments so intertwined with political ones. The podcasts look at some of the issues.
Energy policy divides in the US BBC News, David Shukman (2/11/09)
America’s energy policy dilemma BBC News, David Shukman (2/11/09)
Texas takes on green energy BBC News, Roger Harrabin (1/06/09)
Ethical Man: Green revolution in Texas BBC Newsnight, Justin Rowlatt (11/3/09)
Climate plans part of wider battle over American freedom Ethical Man (Justin Rowlatt) blog (BBC) (3/11/09)
Obama urges climate change effort BBC News (3/11/09)
Al Gore on tackling global warming BBC Newsnight (4/11/09)
Al Gore on beating the ‘oil habit’ BBC Today Programme (4/11/09)
- To what extent will the free market result in a shift to greener energy sources? Why will any shifts towards greener fuels still not result in the socially or environmentally optimum use of fossil and ‘green’ fuels without government intervention?
- What policies could governments adopt to internatlise the externalities involved in burning fossil fuels?
- How suitable are cap-and-trade policies (tradable permits) for tackling global warming? What conditions are necessary for such policies to be effective?
- Why is tackling climate change politically difficult for (a) individual countries and (b) the world as a whole? How is game theory relevant to your analysis?
Economic growth is normally seen as the most important long-term macroeconomic objective. Without economic growth, so it is argued, people will be unable to achieve rising living standards. But, according to Nicholas Stern, Professor of Economics and Government at the London School of Economics, former head of the Government Economic Service, former World Bank chief economist and author of the 2006 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, countries will need to reconsider making growth the goal of their societies.
Speaking to students at the People’s University of Beijing, Lord Stern warned that unless substantial cuts were made in carbon emissions, the effects of global warming would have devastating effects on people’s lives. As the Stern report stated, “Climate change will affect the basic elements of life for people around the world – access to water, food production, health, and the environment. Hundreds of millions of people could suffer hunger, water shortages and coastal flooding as the world warms.” The implications are that countries must making cutting carbon emissions a priority and must reconsider their growth strategies. In his speech he said that “Beijing should shift the economy away from heavy industry, manufacturing for exports and other high-emission activities. Instead, it should focus more on domestic consumption, service industries and low-carbon technology.”
So should countries rethink their economic objectives? Is economic growth either a necessary or sufficient condition for an increase in human welfare? Read the articles and then consider the questions below.
World must help China shift to clean growth-Stern Reuters (11/9/09)
Stern Truths: Some Parts of China Have Western-Style Emissions Wall Street Journal (11/9/09)
Stern: Rich nations will have to forget about growth to stop climate change Guardian (11/9/09)
Stern words in Beijing Hot Topic (New Zealand) (13/9/09)
- Are the objectives of economic growth and tackling gobal warming necessarily incompatible?
- What would a low carbon growth strategy look like?
- What would you include in the opportunity costs of maintaining a high growth strategy compared with switching to a lower carbon, lower growth one?
- Consider whether economic growth is (a) a necessary condition; (b) a sufficient condition for a growth in the wellbeing of the human race.
“The economic crisis is petty by comparison to the nature crunch. But they have the same cause.” This is how George Monbiot starts his article below. The comparison between the financial crisis may seem an unlikely one, but global warming and the resultant economic costs could also have a significant effect on the world economy.
This is what denial does Monbiot.com (14/10/08)
Green shoots of recovery Guardian (8/10/08)
Independence from the street up Guardian (23/9/08)
||Define the terms (i) external cost (ii) private cost (iii) social costs.
||Using diagrams as appropriate show the reasons why the market economy may fail to allocate scarce resources appropriately.
||“If the global economy keeps growing at 3% a year (or 1700% a century) it too will hit the wall.”. Discuss possible policies that may help prevent this situation arising.
In its first report on the impact of bio-fuels, the United Nations (UN) has warned that such fuels may increase poverty in developing countries and have a wider environmental impact than has in the past been suggested. With oil prices at a record high and with climate change pressures, much of the developed world has adopted targets for bio-fuels, but environmentalists have warned that the rush to grow the raw materials for bio-fuels may be more damaging to the environment than the fossil fuels they will replace.
Global rush to energy crops threatens to bring food shortages and increase poverty, says UN Guardian (9/5/07)
UN warns on impacts of biofuels BBC News Online (9/5/07)
UN raises doubts on biofuels Guardian (9/5/07)
||What are the external costs and external benefits resulting from the use of bio-fuels as opposed to fossil fuels?
||Using diagrams as appropriate, show the impact of increased use of bio-fuels on the social equilibrium in the market for fuel.
||Assess policies that European governments could put in place to ensure that the move towards increased use of bio-fuels has a positive environmental impact.