Saturday, November 10, 2012

Cap and Trade Launches in California

It is finally here in the United States with California launching their carbon market on November 14th.  On November 14th, California Air Resource Board (CARB) will launch the selling of 21.8 million carbon allowances to be bought by stationary carbon emitters (plants, utilities etc.).  Distributors of transportation fuels and natural gas will come in 2015.  

This offset mechanism is supposed to have the desired effect of putting a market mechanism in place which will allow rules of economics to force companies to either lower their carbon emissions or pay a price.  Presumably, the price will get high enough where there can be business cases made to implement new technologies or new conservation programs which will drive down the emission of green house gases.  The ultimate goal is to get CO2 down to 1990 levels even with presumed growth of the economy.  

To give an idea of the pricing mechanism below is a graph from Point Carbon which reflects the prices, per metric tonne, of CO2 allowances currently trading in the very illiquid California market. 
Source: Point Carbon
You can see the carbon allowances are trading on the low end of the scale.  The point of injecting the allowances by the state is to give a shot of liquidity to the market to get the market functioning better.  Best estimates are they will sell for between $10 - $12 per metric tonne and we will see on November 14th how it all pans out. 

This mechanism is similar to the European market already in place and this will make the California market the 2d largest market in the world. 

Like it or not, I think the evidence is clear:  1) CO2 is causing climate change. 2) Human activity is producing excess CO2 3) We must reduce CO2.   Given all of this using rules of economics to create a market which "prices" bad environmental behavior is the right way to go.  People will either have to pay the price and continue the bad behavior (that money would be used by others to clean up after the bad behavior person) or they will use the economics to create business cases to create projects to fix / lower their carbon emissions.  

The issue here of course is anytime the government creates a "currency" out of thin air their is huge opportunity for abuse.  However, there are mechanisms to solve that abuse potential, or at least make it not in their best interest to execute the potential corruption, and those mechanisms should be researched, implemented then fine tuned before we decide to end what will be a great program. 

Of course, this will come with the obligatory law suits on both sides so we will wait and see how this all turns out.  Bottom Line: If you are a transportation provider or transportation user you should watch this closely because in 2015 it will impact your business.  You will be participating either directly or indirectly. 

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