Cap & Trade – How Soon?

I’m a strong advocate for a price on carbon, but I have serious reservations about cap & trade. I’m thrilled that climate policy is finally getting off the dime, but I wish enthusiasm were focused on a carbon tax instead. Consider this:

Jurisdiction Instrument Started Operational Status
EU Cap & Trade 2003 2005 Phase 1 overallocated & underpriced; still wrangling over loopholes for subsequent phases
British Columbia Tax Feb 2008 July 2008 Too low to do much yet, but working
Sweden Tax 1991 1991 Running, at $150/TonCO2; emissions down
RGGI Cap & Trade 2003 2008 Overallocated
Norway Tax 1990 1991 Works; not enough to lower emissions substantially
California Cap & Trade (part of AB32) 2007 Earliest 2012 Punted
WCI Cap & Trade 2007 Earliest 2012 Draft design

The pattern that stands out to me is timing – cap & trade systems are slow to get out of the gate compared to carbon taxes. They entail huge design challenges, which often restrict sectoral coverage. Price uncertainty makes it difficult to work out the implications of allowance allocation (unless you go to pure auction, in which case you lose the benefit of transitional grandfathering as a mechanism to buy carbon-intensive industry participation). I think we’ll be lucky to see an operational cap & trade system in the US, with meaningful prices and broad coverage, by the end of the first Obama administration.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

÷ 1 = 2

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.