For over a hundred years, electrical grids have been built with the assumption that electricity has to be generated, transmitted, distributed, and used in real time because energy storage was not economically feasible.
This is now beginning to change.
We are witnessing a pivotal moment in a decades-long effort to combat climate change. Last year in Paris, world leaders came together for the first time to commit to keeping global warming below 2°C. With the Paris Agreement in force and negotiators at COP22 in Marrakesh teasing out the details of implementing the Agreement, countries are developing their action plans (or Nationally Determined Contributions, NDCs) to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Part of this is looking at how carbon assets could be traded across borders.
The remarkable pace at which nations of the world have ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change gives us all hope. It signals the world is ready to take the actions we need to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. We know, however, that delivering on Paris comes with a high price tag, and that we need to help countries not just transition toward renewable energy but unlock the finance needed to get there.
Carbon pricing is increasingly being used by governments and companies around the world as a key strategy to drive climate action while maintaining competitiveness, creating jobs and encouraging innovation. The importance of carbon pricing was amplified in the run up to the global climate change agreement in Paris last December.
As countries move towards the implementation of the Agreement, it is the focus of a World Bank conference in Zurich this week which brings together over 30 developed and developing countries to discuss opportunities and challenges related to the role of carbon pricing in meeting their mitigation ambitions.
More than 180 countries have submitted their intended national climate plans to get on a low-carbon development pathway ahead of COP21 climate talks, now underway in Paris.
Called the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), most include mitigation targets to be implemented by 2025 or 2030. But these plans are not just about numbers. Many of them, particularly those put forward by developing countries, also propose climate actions within the countries’ overall development framework, including adaptation. Hardly surprising, as after all, tackling climate change is about effectively managing a country’s economy.
During his visit to Washington last week, China’s President Xi Jinping confirmed that the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, which has pledged to reduce its carbon intensity and reach a peak of overall emissions by 2030, will use a cap-and-trade market approach to help realize this.
China already has 7 pilot markets in cities and provinces in place that cover 1 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. Under the national scheme, now to go live in 2017, this could increase to 4 billion tons according to Chinese researchers - making it the world’s largest national emissions trading system.
It’s an exciting step and demonstration of China’s commitment to achieve its low carbon goals.
Many of my compatriots in Poland, where over 90 percent of power generation comes from burning coal, are concerned that the EU climate policy is a risky outlier.
They worry that the EU Emissions Trading System may expose domestic industry to unfair competitition and cause companies to move production to countries where emission costs are lower, something called “leakage”.
The two reports recently released by the World Bank may change this perception.
China, the biggest source of CO2 emissions globally, accounts for more than 27 percent of the world's emissions. China is the first developing country to control CO2 emissions through a cap-and-trade system. Once a national carbon market is established, which could be as early as 2017, China will overtake the European Union (EU) to become the biggest carbon market in the world. The Chinese market will significantly alter the balance of power in global carbon markets in the mid-term. Significant challenges remain, and the IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, is helping China to overcome them with a project in Shenzhen that addresses key barriers to carbon trading.
Fundamentals of Emissions Markets
Once a liquid carbon market has been created, trading will mostly happen via forward and futures contracts. These instruments help companies to protect themselves against volatile prices and to hedge their carbon position. In the EU, exchange platforms emerged as one of the main mechanisms aimed at simplifying transactions, reducing risk and facilitating transparent pricing. As trading platforms, exchanges can facilitate price discovery and offer hedging products.
The financial sector and financial institutions (FI) play a fundamentally important role in an emissions trading system. It is to be expected that most companies in China will trade with the help of intermediaries; only large emitters will trade directly at an exchange. Thus, FIs will be in a position to offer trading-related services, as well as advisory products, to clients subject to mandatory CO2 regulation.