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Friday, November 21, 2008

UK Auctions First Carbon Permits; Government Hoarding Revenue

Cross-posted from the Breakthrough Institute

The UK Government auctioned the first four million allowances to emit greenhouse gases under their portion of the European Union's Emissions Trading System this week, raising £54m ($80.9m). However, the government is drawing fire for failing to earmark the auction revenues to investments in clean energy and energy efficiency that could further cut emissions and help reduce the costs of compliance with the cap and trade program. Instead of reinvesting the revenues in clean energy ventures, the government is reportedly planning to add revenues to the general budget.

The Financial Times has details on the auction:

"The first auction of carbon dioxide permits netted the government £54m ($80.9m) on Wednesday as bidders fought for the right to emit greenhouse gases.

Almost 4m permits were sold in an auction that was four times over-subscribed. Previously, all of the emissions permits allocated to UK businesses under the European Union's trading scheme were given out free.

The government has pledged to auction another 80m permits in the next four years, which is likely to bring in revenues of more than £1bn. The identities of bidders were not disclosed, but electricity producers were expected to be the main buyers as they had their free allocation of permits cut by 30 per cent.


The free allocation of permits in the first phase of the scheme, from 2005 to 2008, enabled power companies in the UK and other countries to make windfall profits by raising electricity prices to cover the notional cost of having to buy permits, despite receiving them free. The government said on Wednesday the auctions should not result in further electricity price increases, as the cost of permits had already been factored in.

The UK is pushing for power generators to have to pay for all of their carbon permits in the third phase of the EU scheme, from 2013, arguing that electricity producers tend to be well-insulated from international competition."

However, the UK government apparently isn't planning to spend the money raised by the auction on clean energy investments and is instead putting the funds into the general coffer, the UK Guardian reports:
"The UK government was under fire today for "undermining" the European Union's fight against climate change by auctioning off carbon allowances for the first time and not earmarking the cash for "green" projects.

Around four million permits are being distributed today under a new phase of the European Union's (EU) emissions trading scheme (ETS) with expected receipts of up to £60m going to the Treasury for general spending purposes.

"The policy of the UK government on this issue undermines the very purpose of the EU ETS... Auctioning undermines this flexible mechanism as it takes money away from those who can do something about climate change, the emitters, and it gives it to those who can't, the politicians," said James Emanuel at emissions trading broker, CantorCO2e.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said ministers should change their mind and use the cash specifically for projects such as improving energy efficiency of homes, investing in low-carbon technologies and helping poorer countries cope with climate change.

"This is a great opportunity to help poorer households make their homes both cheaper to heat and warmer, and create jobs through investment in new green technologies," said Lisa Harker, IPPR co-director.

Keith Allott, head of climate change at WWF-UK, agreed saying the review by Lord Stern into the economics of climate change had shown that tackling the problem made sense financially. "This battle can't be won if we don't find the money to invest in solutions and kick-start new green industries," explained Allott."
More on the EU ETS price and auction format later in the article:
"The price of emission allowances have plunged by nearly 30% since September to around €16.50, partly because there are fears that the auction will flood the market and partly because a recession will cut industrial output and reduce pollution worldwide.

The ETS scheme implements an overall cap on the amount of emissions countries can produce, allocates carbon allowances to companies and then allows them to buy or sell the permits to cover shortfalls or profit from cutting their emissions.

Phase II of the scheme, which covers energy generators and heavy industry and aims to cut emissions by encouraging the market to produce carbon reductions at least cost, allows for up to 10% of permits to be auctioned.

In the UK, 7%, or 85 million, permits are being auctioned over five years of the scheme to 2012. The main target of the auction is energy companies which have lost 30% of their free allowances."

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