The European Union Emission Trading Scheme(EU ETS)

The European Union Emission Trading Scheme (EU ETS) is the largest multi-national, emissions trading scheme in the world,and is a major pillar of EU climate policy. The ETS currently covers more than 10,000 installations in the energy and industrial sectors which are collectively responsible for close to half of the EU's emissions of CO2 and 40% of its total greenhouse gas emissions.[2]

UUnder the EU ETS, large emitters of carbon dioxide within the EU must monitor and annually report their CO2 emissions, and they are obliged every year to surrender (give back) an amount of emission allowances to the government that is equivalent to their CO2 emissions in that year. The installations may get the allowances for free from the government, or may purchase them from others (installations, traders, the government.) If an installation has received more free allowances than it needs, it may sell them to anybody.

In January 2008, the European Commission proposed a number of changes to the scheme, including centralized allocation (no more national allocation plans), a turn to auctioning a greater share (60+ %) of permits rather than allocating freely, and inclusion of the greenhouse gases nitrous oxide and perfluorocarbons. Also, the proposed caps foresee in an overall reduction of greenhouse gases for the sector of 21% in 2020 compared to 2005 emissions.

The Mechanisms

The EU scheme is largely modeled on the mechanisms in the Marrakech Accords of the Kyoto Protocol, helped by the experience gained during the running of the voluntary UK Emissions Trading Scheme in the previous years.

Thus the governments of the EU Member States agree national emission caps, allocate allowances to their industrial operators, track and validate the actual emissions in accordance against the relevant assigned amount, and require the allowances to be retired after the end of each year. The operators within the ETS may reassign or trade their allowances by several means:

  • privately, moving allowances between operators within a company and across national borders
  • over the counter, using a broker to privately match buyers and sellers
  • trading on the spot market of one of Europe's climate exchanges (the most liquid being the European Climate Exchange). Like any other financial instrument, trading consists of matching buyers and sellers between members of the exchange and then settling by depositing an allowance in exchange for the agreed financial consideration. Much like a stock market, companies and private individuals can trade through brokers who are listed on the exchange.

When each change of ownership of an allowance is proposed, the national registry and the European Commission are informed in order for them to validate the transaction. During Phase II of the EU ETS the UNFCCC will also validate any change that alters the distribution within each national allocation plan.

Like the Kyoto trading scheme, the EU scheme allows a regulated operator to use carbon credits in the form of Emission Reduction Units (ERU) to comply with its obligations. A Kyoto Certified Emission Reduction unit (CER), produced by a carbon project that has been certified by the UNFCCC's Clean Development Mechanism Executive Board or the Joint Implementation project's host country, respectively, is accepted by the EU as equivalent.

Thus one EU Allowance Unit of one tonne of CO2, or "EUA", was designed to be identical ("fungible") with the equivalent "Assigned Amount Unit" (AAU) of CO2 defined under Kyoto. Hence, because of the EU's decision to accept Kyoto-CERs as equivalent to EU-EAUs, it will be possible to trade EAUs and UNFCCC-validated CERs on a one-to-one basis within the same system. (However, the EU has announced that this facility is being delayed, possibly until 2009, until it can overcome its technical problems connecting to the UN systems.[4])

During Phase II of the EU ETS, the operators within each Member State must surrender their allowances for inspection by the EU before they can be "retired" by the UNFCCC.




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