December 11, 2009
This post attempts to see beyond the Climate change emotional ‘layer’ and tries identifying the basic mechanics at stake in Copenhagen talks.
Let us start with CO2 emissions, representing the biggest part in volume of designated Greenhouse gases (GHG’s). Considering our biosphere as a closed container, all potential CO2 is already present in one form or another. It is thus the rhythm at which it is released in the atmosphere (by human intervention), prior to being absorbed or recycled again, that may influence the global climate equilibrium. In financial parlance this is referred to as maturity transformation, or playing different durations against one another. Under Kyoto, these anthropogenic emissions have been quantified and translated in value terms, in effect creating a genuine economical lever with which regulatory authorities can play at will to influence not only climate change but where to put economical efforts and how to finance it.
To that extent, cap & trade schemes being so far based on grandfathering principles, they actually provide the industry with the possibility to trade emissions they will have to curb over time, hence providing them right now with a cost of carry advantage. The time to maturity will then enable those industries to improve their value chain, making them less dependent on fossil energies, thus leading to less GHG emissions. Indeed, as long as an industry is not in a position to control this dependency, it faces substantial risks of energy supply scarcity, turning out into potentially rocketing prices for the whole value chain. Consumers might as well not be willing to indefinitely cough up more money for products/services that are not deemed essential. The timeframe for accessing/using this (still cheap) fossil energy is of course what is really at stake for all nations, especially if put in perspective with the marginal cost associated with making the whole value chain greener.
One can thus see the whole concept as an alternative way to finance economical development/ recovery, to be compared for instance with military investments or state subsidies being merely injected into legacy industries.
Combined with the offset possibilities under Kyoto’s Clean Development Mechanism, this should as well further develop funds/technology transfer towards non-Annex I countries, which probably explains why non-Annex I countries are now so pushy about even more ambitious global emission reduction targets.
So by defining a global GHG emission envelope complete with its planned reduction over time, cap & trade schemes, offset mechanisms and exchange trading platforms, one has actually created a virtual asset repository, for which all stakeholders are now fiercely negotiating to get a fair chunk of.
One should also consider that, historically, international monetary policy and inflation control was done by referring to a gold standard. As such, all countries were detaining and managing gold reserves in order to stabilize their currency. Yet, since the end of the Bretton Woods system – following Mr. Nixon administration’s abandoning of the dollar/gold parity in 1971 – the US Dollar became in effect the reserve currency of the world, resulting in other economical powers being somehow deprived of their free monetary will, or at least less independent.
The next step could than well lead to the general adoption of a new gold standard, namely a carbon standard, the t CO2e (tonne CO2 equivalent, or rather the potential to spare it). This new ‘reserve currency’ could then enable all economies to henceforth compare their added value (reflecting their fight against fossil energy dependence), without being linked to a particular currency. As this t CO2 e unit is quoted on specialized exchanges it now has a universally recognized market value. Hence, current talks are somehow equivalent to sharing out gold (carbon) reserves between nations. Of course, in contrast with actual gold reserves and their physical limitations or with the US Dollar being exclusively managed by the US Federal Reserve Bank, the size of such a carbon repository can be adjusted (read negotiated) more or less at will, albeit only through international consensus…in the like of Copenhagen talks.
Should all this prove being more than sheer fantasy, than why not imagine the World Bank acting as a central reserve bank, with the IMF adding offsets to its panoply of development and support tools?