Sadly, Ed Davey still doesn't understand carbon cap and trade systems


This is something of a pity of course, for not only is he the politician in charge of this area he's also been in charge of it for some years now. You'd rather hope that someone would have clued him into how cap and trade systems work by now but apparently not. Perhaps people have tried and he's not able to grasp it? The problem is that Davey seems to think that a low price for a pollution permit is a bad thing: that because pollution is bad therefore a high price for the right to pollute would be better. This is, of course, the reverse of what is actually true:

The EU cap-and-trade system is the world's largest. By putting a price on every metric ton of carbon emitted and allowing companies to trade allowances, the system enables carbon-reduction targets to be met at the least cost.

But the market currently has a surplus of about 2 billion emission allowances, equivalent to a year’s supply. As a result, carbon prices are at an unhealthy low. So what has gone wrong, and what can we do about it?

Some believe that a weak carbon price benefits business and the economy, but it does not. It undermines the low-carbon investment we need now to meet long-term targets. Ambitious emissions-reduction targets are here to stay, so delaying low-carbon investments just pushes the cost of achieving them later down the line and risks increasing it. It also means losing out on the potential growth and jobs that come with such investments.


There is no surplus of permits: there's exactly the same number of permits that there were when the politicians set up the system. That many of them are going unused does not mean that pollution is not being reduced: it means that reducing pollution was easier than the politicians thought it was going to be when they set the number of permits. And a low permit price does not mean that people are not working to reduce emissions: it means that it's far cheaper to reduce emissions than we all thought it was going to be.

Davey's simply got the wrong end of the stick here about what prices are telling us. If we were to have a carbon tax then yes, it would be the price which would be what limits emissions. The higher the tax the more emissions would be limited. But prices work the other way around in a cap and trade system. The limit on emissions is the number of permits. Price tells us not how many emissions will be limited but how easy or difficult it is to meet the permit cap. We would all very much prefer emissions permits to cost €0.01 per thousand tonnes CO2 than any thing higher. For it would indicate that reducing emissions is a great deal cheaper than anyone thought it would be.

Aren't we lucky that people attempting to plan our lives can't grasp even the most basic points about how to plan said lives?