Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Sustainable Energy

Rocky Start for CO2 Trading

The European Union handed out more allowances than it should have.

In 2002, the European Union ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which requires that global greenhouse-gas emissions be reduced by 2012 to an amount 5 percent below 1990 levels. To do its part, the EU is relying largely on market mechanisms. Companies that operate certain carbon-emitting facilities, such as coal- or oil-fired electrical generating stations, are granted “allowances” – the legal right to release a certain amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year – and may buy and sell these allowances as they wish.

Such a market, in theory, gives companies an incentive to reduce emissions, so that they can avoid buying extra allowances and sell their surplus ones. But the European Union Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trading Scheme, which opened in January 2005, has already run into some unexpected glitches. In April and May, data leaked by some member states and the European Commission showed that in the first year of the market’s operation, most EU countries handed out more allowances than were needed. Total allowances exceeded the actual amount of carbon emitted by at least 67 million tons, or 3.4 percent, according to PointCarbon, a research firm based in Oslo, Norway. The news disoriented carbon traders and caused allowance prices, which had risen steadily since the market’s opening, to plummet from about 30 euros per ton of carbon dioxide to a low of less than 10 euros per ton.

Low allowance prices mean companies have little incentive to reduce their emissions. Governments have been so generous when allocating permits that this first, experimental phase of allowance trading – which lasts through 2007 – is unlikely to lead to real emissions reductions, says Christian Azar, a professor of physical-resource theory at Chalmers University in Gothenburg, Sweden. What’s needed, says Azar, is a cap on allowances.

Want to go ad free? No ad blockers needed.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.
More from Sustainable Energy

Can we sustainably provide food, water, and energy to a growing population during a climate crisis?

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Print Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.