The central pillar of European climate policy, the European Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), is currently under scrutiny, as the allowance price is persistently low at around 5€/tCO2. The cap was met and emissions actually declined in recent years, ensuring the environmental effectiveness of the scheme. However, the low price may affect the long-term cost-effectiveness of the instrument by reducing the incentive for investment and deployment of low carbon technologies. No significant increase in the allowance price is expected before 2020, and probably not beyond, without reform. While the reasons for the price decline are controversial, empirical analysis shows that only a small portion of price fluctuations can be explained by factors such as the economic crisis, renewable deployment or international offsets. Therefore, it is likely that political factors and regulatory uncertainty have played a key role in the price decline. As a consequence, any reform of the EU ETS has to deliver a mechanism that reduces such uncertainty and stabilizes expectations of market participants. The Market Stability Reserve proposed by the EU Commission is unlikely to address the current problem of price uncertainty and insufficient dynamic efficiency. The key element of the alternative reform proposal described in this paper is to set a price collar in the EU ETS with lower and upper boundaries. This is likely to reinforce the long-term credibility and reliability of the price signal. In addition, a price for GHG emissions not covered by the EU ETS has to be set. If additional market failures prevent the market from functioning efficiently, specific policy instruments related to innovation and technology diffusion should be implemented in addition to carbon pricing. Carbon leakage could be addressed through tailor-made trade policies. In parallel, increasing the coalition of countries included in the carbon pricing should remain a priority. This reform package would bring the EU ETS back to life, while avoiding a relapse into potentially costly and inefficient national climate and energy policies.
Suggested citation: Knopf, B., N. Koch, G. Grosjean, S. Fuss, C. Flachsland, M. Pahle, M. Jakob, O. Edenhofer, (2014), 'The European Emissions Trading System (EU ETS): Ex-Post Analysis, the Market Stability Reserve and Options for a Comprehensive Reform', Nota di Lavoro 79.2014, Milan, Italy: Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei.