The term "emissions" refers to greenhouse gases produced (for the most part) by industrial sources such as power plants, manufacturers and vehicles. These gases are regarded as pollutants to the atmosphere and several schemes have been set up to help reduce the gases by trading credits on them.
Emissions trading became one of the fastest growing commodities markets in the wake of the Kyoto Treaty, which helped set the framework for mandatory emissions reduction schemes such as cap-and-trade markets. In 2019, there were 20 emissions trading schemes, or (ETS) programs globally covering 27 jurisdictions, with the oldest and largest being the European Union known at the EU ETS, launched in 2005. In the US, two carbon markets were set up in California, which is linked to Quebec, Canada through the Western Climate Initiative or (WCI) and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative for 10 Northeast states, also known as RGGI. Other markets include South Korea, China, which has several pilot markets and a plan to launch nationally in 2020, Kazakstan, Switzerland and potentially Mexico in 2020.
Emissions trading allows one source to increase emissions of greenhouse gases when another source reduces them, theoretically maintaining an overall constant emission level.
The limits on greenhouse gas emissions set by the Kyoto Protocol are a way of assigning monetary value to the earth's shared atmosphere. The Kyoto Protocol sets limits on total emissions by the world's major economies, a prescribed number of emission units.
The Protocol allows countries that have emissions units to spare - emissions permitted them but not "used" - to sell this excess capacity to countries that are over their targets. The excess units are called "credits" or "allowances" and can be traded on emissions markets such as the [[Intercontinental Exchange]} and European Energy Exchange.
Programs like this are known as "cap and trade" programs because they set a cap or limit on the total amount of pollution that can be released from regulated sources and then allow participants to use their extra emission allowances, or credits, as currency on the open market. The cap is set lower than historical emissions in order to reduce emissions.
At the end of each compliance period, each source must own at least as many allowances as its emissions.
Countries can get credit for reducing greenhouse gas totals by planting or expanding forests; for carrying out "joint implementation projects" with other developed countries--usually countries with "transition economies"; and for projects under the Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism, which involves funding activities to reduce emissions by developing nations. Credits earned this way may be bought and sold in the emissions market or "banked" for future use.
In 2008, the value of global emissions traded totaled $118 billion, up 84% from 2007, according to New Carbon Finance. The European Union Emission Trading Scheme EU ETS represents 70 percent of that market and 80 percent of the value. The global emissions market is forecast to grow to $150 billion in 2009.
- ICAP Status Report 2019. ICAP.
- Allowance Trading Basics. EPA.gov.
- Emissions Trading: The Carbon Market. UNFCCC.
- Global Emissions Market Increased 84% to $118 Billion Last Year. Bloomberg.
- Greenhouse Gas Market 2007. IETA.