Carbon Pricing & Net Zero Targets

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© Nikolay Kovalenko

The vision of many countries to reach carbon neutrality or “net zero” (mostly by 2050) includes a focus on carbon pricing and carbon taxation. The objective is to move the market towards choosing lower carbon options, products and services.

The World Bank provides informatoin on carbon pricing and the concept itself: A price on carbon helps shift the burden for the damage back to those who are responsible for it, and who can reduce it. Instead of dictating who should reduce emissions where and how, a carbon price gives an economic signal and polluters decide for themselves whether to discontinue their polluting activity, reduce emissions, or continue polluting and pay for it. In this way, the overall environmental goal is achieved in the most flexible and least-cost way to society. The carbon price also stimulates clean technology and market innovation, fuelling new, low-carbon drivers of economic growth.

There are two main types of carbon pricing: emissions trading systems (ETS) and carbon taxes.

An ETS – sometimes referred to as a cap-and-trade system – caps the total level of greenhouse gas emissions and allows those industries with low emissions to sell their extra allowances to larger emitters. By creating supply and demand for emissions allowances, an ETS establishes a market price for greenhouse gas emissions. The cap helps ensure that the required emission reductions will take place to keep the emitters (in aggregate) within their pre-allocated carbon budget.

A carbon tax directly sets a price on carbon by defining a tax rate on greenhouse gas emissions or – more commonly – on the carbon content of fossil fuels. It is different from an ETS in that the emission reduction outcome of a carbon tax is not pre-defined but the carbon price is.

The choice of the instrument will depend on national and economic circumstances. There are also more indirect ways of more accurately pricing carbon, such as through fuel taxes, the removal of fossil fuel subsidies, and regulations that may incorporate a “social cost of carbon.” Greenhouse gas emissions can also be priced through payments for emission reductions. Private entities or sovereigns can purchase emission reductions to compensate for their own emissions (so-called offsets) or to support mitigation activities through results-based finance.

Some 40 countries and more than 20 cities, states and provinces already use carbon pricing mechanisms, with more planning to implement them in the future.  Together the carbon pricing schemes now in place cover about half their emissions, which translates to about 13 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions.

Governments, regulators, investors and consumers know that 2050 is far away and change needs to happen fast.

Carbon and Temperature Scenarios

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