By Stephanie Pfeifer, Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (Europe); Nathan Fabian, Investor Group on Climate Change (Australia/New Zealand); Chris Davis, Investor Network on Climate Risk (North America); and Alexandra Tracy, Asia Investor Group on Climate Change.
The British economist Lord Nicholas Stern has labelled climate change “the greatest market failure the world has ever seen.” Failing to put a price on carbon emissions leaves the market with no way to address the harm created by these emissions. And with no cost attached to a harmful activity, participants in the market have no incentive to pursue less harmful alternatives. Thankfully, this is changing.
About 40 national and more than 20 sub-national jurisdictions globally have implemented or are scheduled to implement carbon pricing schemes. The world’s emissions trading schemes are valued at about $30 billion, with China home to the world's second largest group of carbon markets, covering the equivalent of 1,115 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, after the 2,309 million tonnes covered by the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme.
This progress is good news, and furthering the spread of carbon pricing is essential. Putting a price on carbon reduces emissions and the costs associated with these emissions, costs that end up being borne by everyone, including companies and societies, through an array of impacts resulting from climate change.
Someone once told me that all it takes is that first visit: once you have the dust of Africa on your feet, it will pull you back, again and again. This was before I knew that I would one day be part of the team leading delivery of the annual Africa Carbon Forum.
And so, it has come to pass: every year, and this was the sixth edition, the forum pulls its stakeholders together to build capacity on issues of climate change, and to help raise a voice for Africa on issues like the UN climate negotiations or policy discussions on the revision of the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
Since it was established, the Africa Carbon Forum has grown into what is often described as the leading event in Africa for players in energy and carbon markets. In the last four years, we have met in Marrakech, in Addis Ababa, in Abidjan, and now in beautiful Windhoek, where the splendid weather last week reminded me of just what we stand to lose if our mitigation efforts are not successful. I was not as fortunate, but a wonder-struck colleague spoke about the family of cheetahs that ran past the car as he drove in from the airport. Are we one of the last generations that will see these beautiful creatures in the wild because their habitat will change due to new climate patterns?
At the Forum's opening plenary (pdf), the Namibian Minister for Environment and Tourism, the Honorable Uahekua Herunga, urged us to work together to make carbon markets work for Africa and prepare the continent for future carbon trading. But, he insisted that developed countries need to act first and that mitigation actions should be taken within the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). He asked that the forum sends a powerful message from Africa to the 2015 UN climate meeting in Paris about mitigation opportunities in Africa.
The call for a price on carbon is growing louder in the corridors of business and government. Last week, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson wrote in The New York Times that climate risks are perhaps the biggest “known unknown” that we face, and he asked “farseeing business leaders” to demand a price on carbon—it’s the quickest, most efficient way to manage these risks.
Paulson was previewing the Risky Business report, which calculated the economic impact of climate change on U.S. businesses’ balance sheets. A few days later, CDP released a report on corporate use of internal carbon pricing.
CDP surveyed executives to find out why leading businesses are already valuing carbon to future-proof their business plans. It is interesting to note that some of the largest U.S. utilities, including American Electric Power and Exelon, price carbon in an effort to avoid stranding large fossil-fuel-fired power plants and to reassure investors. Other less carbon-intensive businesses use internal prices to help achieve corporate sustainability goals—TD Bank aims to go carbon neutral, and Walt Disney Corporation (as well as Microsoft) uses internal pricing to encourage employee innovation while delivering profits. The value of encouraging more sustainable growth like this came through this week in the World Bank Group’s new Adding Up the Benefits report, which calculated the value of climate-smart development in lives, jobs, and economic growth, as well as the climate.
I knew there was something different about Carbon Expo this year as I looked up during the opening ceremony and noticed the room was packed, with standing room only for late arrivals.
That is when I first asked myself: I know why I am here, but why are you here? I felt like a veteran carbon warrior among a sea of young fresh-faced carbon players.
I started coming to Carbon Expo in 2004, and this year, for the first time, there are plenty of people I don’t recognize. So today I took some time to ask people what they were doing here and why there seems to be a growing interest in carbon markets.
About 80 government representatives from more than 30 countries just concluded the 9th Assembly of the Partnership for Market Readiness (PMR) – three days of rich discussions on various domestic policy instruments that put a price on carbon, such as emissions trading systems (ETS), carbon taxes, and payments for emission reductions. At the same time, private sector firms are arriving in Cologne to attend Carbon Expo which runs until the end of the week.
A timely “rendezvous” between the two sectors – public and private – took place today on the subject of carbon pricing policies. The event, hosted by the World Bank’s PMR, the International Finance Corporation, and the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), invited leading private firm and government representatives to discuss the initial findings of a study by the PMR and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), which interviewed three companies – Rio Tinto, Shell, and U.S. utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) – on how they are preparing for a carbon price.
Climate change is a threat to global development and to poverty alleviation. And yet, reducing greenhouse gas emissions is proving difficult because all players in an economy contribute to the problem. To make a difference, we must reduce our emissions in a coordinated manner.
This is no easy task. So where do we go from here?
One approach involves pricing the “externalities” that are contributing to climate change. Pricing externalities into the costs of production is nothing new. A classic textbook example is the paper mill that sits upstream from a fishing village.
Discharge from the mill pollutes the river, diminishing the fishermen’s catch. The mill freely uses the water of the river in its production of paper, but does not pay for the damage of the negative externality that it causes. To remedy the situation, regulations can be put in place to stop waste from going into the river – or the mill can pay a fine equivalent to the loss of the fishermen’s revenue.
The latter is an example of an externality priced into the cost of production. The same can be done to combat climate change.
In this case, carbon emissions are the externality that must be priced. Doing so provides a cost-effective and efficient means to drive down greenhouse gas emissions as the cost of such pollution goes up.
Only a few years ago, the failure to properly quantify and communicate the risks of a widely traded commodity, mortgage-backed securities, caused major damage to the US and ultimately the global economy. According to the IMF, total losses will approach $4 trillion (pdf). A significant share of the losses were incurred by pension funds and insurance companies typically viewed as among the more risk-averse and cautious segments of the investment community.
A new report by the Carbon Tracker Initiative and the Grantham Research Institute on the Environment and Climate Change evaluates the failure to properly value the risks of climate policy to companies with major fossil fuel reserves and finds a similar potential for massive financial fall-out. They conclude that “Between 60-80% of coal, oil and gas reserves of publicly listed companies are ‘unburnable’ if the world is to have a chance of not exceeding global warming of 2°C.” (A short video explaining the research and mapping the amounts of investment at stake in different countries is available online).
The perceived communications fiasco of the last few months about what is known and not known about the science of climate change led one of my students, Andy Lubershane, to try a different approach—animation. His effort is meant to communicate in a clear, humorous, memorable way the reasons why we need to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions.
Andy is one of 160 Master’s students using the World Development Report 2010 as a textbook on Environmental Assessment at the University of Michigan.