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What Ails the European Union's Emissions Trading System? Two Diagnoses Calling for Different Treatments

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  • Salant, Stephen W.

Abstract

In theory, how a fixed number of storable pollution permits are allocated in a cap-and-trade trade program should not affect intertemporal prices unless participants fail to receive permit endowments before they plan to use them. "Backloading" can create inefficiency; "frontloading" cannot. The European Union's Emissions Trading System, however, is regarded as a counterexample where frontloading itself is creating inefficiency. This view underlies current policy proposals to backload permits or to create a Market Stability Reserve. The goal of these policies is to shrink the current inventory of permits carried by the private sector without tightening the cap. We question the most prominent theory of why frontloading has been excessive by comparing its implications to a theory that attributes recent movements in the spot price of permits to ongoing regulatory risk of a price collapse much like what occurred in the 1970's in anticipation of the devaluation of the Mexican peso or the sale of massive government gold stockpiles. Correct diagnosis should precede treatment advice: if frontloading is excessive, inefficiency can be eliminated by suitable backloading of permits; if regulatory risk is excessive, however, backloading either directly or with a market stability reserve is unlikely to reduce inefficiency.

Suggested Citation

  • Salant, Stephen W., 2015. "What Ails the European Union's Emissions Trading System? Two Diagnoses Calling for Different Treatments," Discussion Papers dp-15-30, Resources For the Future.
  • Handle: RePEc:rff:dpaper:dp-15-30
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    File URL: http://www.rff.org/RFF/documents/RFF-DP-15-30.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    3. Makoto Hasegawa & Stephen Salant, 2015. "The Dynamics of Pollution Permits," Annual Review of Resource Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 7(1), pages 61-79, October.
    4. Salant, Stephen W & Henderson, Dale W, 1978. "Market Anticipations of Government Policies and the Price of Gold," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 86(4), pages 627-648, August.
    5. Chaton, Corinne & Creti, Anna & Villeneuve, Bertrand, 2009. "Storage and security of supply in the medium run," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 24-38, January.
    6. Don Bredin and John Parsons, 2016. "Why is Spot Carbon so Cheap and Future Carbon so Dear? The Term Structure of Carbon Prices," The Energy Journal, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(Number 3).
    7. Robert S. Pindyck, 2001. "The Dynamics of Commodity Spot and Futures Markets: A Primer," The Energy Journal, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(Number 3), pages 1-30.
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    Cited by:

    1. Holt, Charles A. & Shobe, William M., 2016. "Reprint of: Price and quantity collars for stabilizing emission allowance prices: Laboratory experiments on the EU ETS market stability reserve," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 80(C), pages 69-86.

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    Keywords

    cap and trade; emissions trading; market stability reserve; peso problem; regulatory uncertainty;

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