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How Environmental Markets Advance Net Zero

The global price of carbon increased 91% in 2021. Below, we show how environmental markets are supporting a greener future.
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This article was originally published by Visual Capitalist

The following content is sponsored by ICE.

How Environmental Markets Advance Net Zero

In 2021, roughly 20% of global carbon emissions were covered by carbon pricing mechanisms.

Meanwhile, the global price of carbon increased 91%, bolstered by government, corporate, and investor demand. This puts traditional fuel sources at a disadvantage, instead building the investment case for renewables.

This infographic from ICE, the first in a three part series on the ESG toolkit, explores how environmental markets work and their role in the fight against climate change.

What are Environmental Markets?

First, meeting a goal of net zero carbon emissions involves limiting the use of the world’s finite carbon budget to meet a 1.5°C pathway.

Achieving net zero requires us to:

  • Change how we utilize energy and transition to less carbon-intensive fuels
  • Put a value on the conservation of nature or “natural capital” and carbon sinks, which accumulate and store carbon

Environmental markets facilitate the pathway to net zero by valuing externalities, such as placing a cost on pollution and placing a price on carbon storage. This helps balance the carbon cycle to manage the carbon budget in the most cost-effective manner.

What Is the Carbon Budget?

To keep temperatures 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, we have just 420 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO₂ remaining in the global carbon budget. At current rates, this remaining carbon budget is projected to be consumed by 2030 if no reductions are made.

Carbon Budget 1.5°C 1.7°C 2.0°C
Remaining GtCO₂ 420 770 1270
Consumed GtCO₂ 2475 2475 2475

Each scenario based on a 50% chance of success
Source: IPCC AR6 WG; Friedlingstein et al 2021; Global Carbon Budget 2021

Across three different scenarios, the above table indicates the amount of carbon emissions humanity can emit to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

What are Negative and Positive Externalities?

Second, when companies compensate for CO₂ emissions, they can fall across two categories: negative and positive externalities.

  • Negative externalities include pollution. Carbon cap and trade programs, using carbon allowances, put a cost on pollution.
  • Positive externalities include renewables, such as wind and solar power that generate carbon-free electricity. The value of renewable energy can be expressed with a renewable energy certificate.

Natural capital is another example of a positive externality, which involves the capturing and storing of carbon. The value of this type of natural capital can be expressed using a carbon credit.

Environmental Markets and the Energy Transition

Next, environmental markets can drive the transition to cleaner energy sources by ascribing a cost to pollution and putting a premium on renewables, to change how we use energy.

As one example, in 2013 the UK government introduced the Carbon Price Support mechanism to complement the emissions cap and trade program and weaken the investment case for coal. Between 2013 and 2020, Britain’s overall CO₂ emissions fell by 31%.

Here’s how coal was phased out of the UK’s energy mix, while renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and bioenergy played a greater role.

Date Coal Gas Wind and Solar Bioenergy
Q1 2000 31 TWh 40 TWh 0 TWh 1 TWh
Q1 2005 41 TWh 36 TWh 1 TWh 2 TWh
Q1 2010 31 TWh 47 TWh 2 TWh 3 TWh
Q1 2015 28 TWh 23 TWh 13 TWh 6 TWh
Q1 2020 3 TWh 27 TWh 28 TWh 9 TWh

Source: Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES); BP; EMBER via Our World in Data (2021)

Today, less than 5% of the UK’s electricity is coal-generated, with remaining plants expected to be decommissioned by 2024.

How Environmental Markets are Advancing Net Zero

Finally, as governments increase their commitments to net zero, carbon prices are rising towards a level that requires industries to decarbonize and meet those goals.

In fact, between 2014 and 2021, the global price of carbon has increased over sixfold.

Date Global Carbon Price (Year End) Annual % Change
2021 $47.78 91%
2020 $24.96 37%
2019 $18.16 -7%
2018 $19.56 102%
2017 $9.67 29%
2016 $7.52 -24%
2015 $9.88 7%
2014 $9.24 32%

As indicated by the ICECRBN Global Carbon Price (CPW Weighted)
Source: ICE (Apr 2022)

As companies begin to treat their carbon footprints as liabilities, there will be increasing demand for environmental attributes, such as carbon allowances and carbon credits.

Managing Risk and Opportunity

Quoted markets like ICE Futures Exchanges and NYSE allow stakeholders to precisely value positive and negative externalities to:

  • Manage emissions cost effectively
  • Hedge climate transition risk
  • Allocate capital to facilitate the energy transition and build carbon sinks
  • Create an asset class for Natural Capital
  • Invest in assets to meet climate obligations

Everyone is exposed to climate risk which means it needs to be measured and managed.

That’s why balancing the carbon cycle will be critical to managing the world’s carbon budget. Markets are providing greater access, liquidity and opportunity in supporting net zero ambitions.

In part two of the series sponsored by ICE, we’ll look at four motivations for using ESG data.

The post How Environmental Markets Advance Net Zero appeared first on Visual Capitalist.

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