Open Europe Blog

As national ministers meet this week in Copenhagen to discuss a new climate change deal, Open Europe has found that under the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), oil and gas companies’ operations in the UK were granted a surplus of carbon permits worth €28.6m in 2008. For example, ExxonMobil received €4.3m and Total received €5.4m.

Meanwhile, heavy industrial polluters such as Corus received €47m, while cement firms Hanson and Lafarge received €17.3m and €20.2m.

The EU is keen to be seen to take the lead at the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen and has already announced ambitious targets to reduce its carbon emissions. However, the EU’s principle policy for achieving those reductions, the ETS, is fundamentally flawed.

Due to the economic downturn, many heavy polluters, such as oil and gas companies and heavy industrials, have been left with a surplus of carbon permits – essentially a free asset that firms can sell on to bolster their short term profits.

The glut of surplus permits on the market has driven down the price of carbon and led to a sharp increase in the number of permits being traded via carbon exchanges. Open Europe has found that the two largest carbon trading exchanges, European Climate Exchange[1] and Bluenext[2], which includes members such as Barclays Bank, JP Morgan, Merrill Lynch and Shell, have earned a combined average of €245,000 a day from the trading of carbon permits so far in 2009, in transaction fees alone. In total, they have made over €57m between them in 2009.

Instead of producing a firm carbon price to encourage investment in greener technologies, the ETS has become a subsidy to some of the UK’s biggest polluters and has simply created a new breed of carbon traders, which are cashing in on a policy that is failing to achieve its core objective.

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