Green opportunism pays off

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Saturday, November 4, 2006

Prime Minister Blair has pointed to the great opportunities afforded by tackling climate change. One company in London has cornered 80% of the carbon trading market, part of the green goldrush created by the Kyoto Climate Change Treaty. This company, Climate Exchange plc, now dominates the carbon exchange markets, increasing its turnover from 95 million tonnes of carbon last year to 257 million in the first eight months of this year. Climate Exchange plc is now valued at more than £160 million

Climate Exchange plc was founded by James Cameron, previously a negotiator of the Kyoto Treaty. Mr Cameron is quoted as saying about the development of this new market, "It's what we hoped for. Investment power is power, and you need power to make a change. There is huge vested interest in the status quo, and to shift that you need power". In Europe the market is expected to more than double from €9.4 billion (£6.3 billion) last year to €22 billion (£15.4 billion) this year, according to the analysts Point Carbon.

At present USA is not participating in the carbon trading scheme, but individual states may decide to join in. It has been estimated that if ever carbon becomes a world commodity, the value of permits could reach €1000 billion (£700 billion).

It is claimed by advocates of the scheme that, by putting a price on carbon emissions, pollution can be costed into business decisions. This enables market forces to drive the reduction in emissions, making government regulation unnecessary. Carbon trading is not without detractors who see this free market as an intrusion into public space and point to corruption and failures in accounting and the application of science.

Sean Park, of Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, gave an example: a wind farm developer could receive tradable carbon credits because the technology had zero carbon emissions. These credits could then be used to raise the capital needed to build the wind farm. In this way, carbon trading promoted the development of low carbon technologies.

Following publication of the Stern Review, which he had commissioned, UK Chancellor Gordon Brown urged member states of the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme to aim for new carbon emission targets. He said that they should reduce emissions by 30% below 1990 levels by 2020 and by at least 60% by 2050.

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