This week's Newsletters will focus on our consumption of carbon, either directly (via emission levels) or indirectly (via market pricing). To begin, the article in the url below discusses the range of efforts being implemented to tackle climate change in the way recommended by most economists – to price carbon emissions. At some level, this is gaining traction among some governments that are finally beginning to take climate change policy seriously:
"A total of 41 OECD and G20 governments have announced either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade scheme, or both. Add state and local schemes, and they cover 15% of the world's emissions, up from 4% in 2010."
While impressive on the surface, such schemes (cap-and-trade, in particular) are not comprehensively exposed to market forces and, as such, are subject to distorting political influences. Seeing the day when carbon taxes are coming, however, companies are not waiting to be told what to do:
"Companies are moving faster than many governments on carbon pricing. Nearly 1,400 firms globally with combined revenues of $7trn already use, or soon will, 'internal carbon prices.'"
This is happening at a pace that is not widely recognized:
"Of the 6,100-odd firms which report climate-related data to CDP, a British watchdog, 607 now claim to use 'internal carbon prices.' The number has quadrupled since CDP first began posing the query in its annual questionnaire three years ago. Another 782 companies say they will introduce similar measures within two years. Total annual revenues of these 1,389 carbon-price champions amount to a hefty $7trn. Most come from rich countries, but more developing-world firms are joining them."
In most cases, firms charge departments internally for the amount of carbon they use (whether in production or executives flying to meetings overseas), with the goal of reducing the firm-level total. Microsoft and Disney are both mentioned in the article as early adopters. Shell is also a proponent:
"In his day job as chief executive of Royal DSM, Mr Sijbesma has made the Dutch food producer examine all proposed ventures to check whether the sums still add up if a ton of carbon dioxide cost €50 ($60), well above the going rate of €6 or so in the European Union's emissions-trading system, which is kept low by an oversupply of permits. Where they do not, alternative feedstocks or cleaner energy suppliers must be found. If a project still looks unprofitable, it could be discarded altogether."
What I found interesting in the article, however, is the extent to which firms are differentiating between the short and long term in their planning:
"Besides assessing capital projects at €30 per ton of carbon dioxide, Saint-Gobain, a French maker of building materials, factors in a higher price of €100 per ton when choosing between long-term research-and-development projects. AkzoNobel, a Dutch chemicals giant, uses €50 per ton for most investments, but double that for those with lifetimes of 30 years or more."
Needless to say, implementation is inconsistent across firms. Nevertheless, the fact that so many firms are innovating in this area suggests there is support for governments to introduce a carbon tax, which immediately exposes all carbon-pricing schemes to market forces and all firms to the full costs of production. When (not if) this happens, those firms that are being the most creative and experimental today will see the largest and quickest benefit.
"Such voluntary steps will not stop the planet sizzling. But they help firms prepare for when governments do bring in pricing schemes. In December China launched a market for trading carbon emissions which is the world's largest. The clearest sign of progress would be for similar policies elsewhere to render internal exercises redundant."
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January 13, 2018