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Carbon pricing offers no guarantee of emissions cuts, report finds

A recent World Bank report offers a very mixed bag for anyone hoping the spread of carbon pricing — via taxes or permit trading — could help bring steep cuts in worldwide emissions.

Reproduced from a World Bank report. Chart: Axios Visuals

Why it matters: The bank's latest look at pricing trends follows global CO2 emissions increases in 2017 and 2018 that ended a 3-year plateau.

What they found: The report examines various types of regional and national pricing systems.

  • 11 new initiatives were launched in 2018–2019, such as Canada's hybrid trading (for power and industry) and fee (for fuels), as well as South Africa's economy-wide tax.
  • That brings the total number of running or scheduled to run to 57, including China's national emissions trading system slated to begin next year.
  • Those initiatives — roughly split between emissions trading systems and CO2 taxes — cover 20% of worldwide emissions.
  • Governments raised roughly $44 billion in revenues from pricing last year.

But, but, but: The existence of a pricing system is no guarantee of emissions cuts (though pricing can also help indirectly by funding climate-related programs).

  • "[L]ess than five percent of global emissions covered under carbon pricing initiatives are priced at a level consistent with achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement," the report states.
  • That would mean prices in the range of $40–$80 per ton of CO2 by 2020 and $50–$100 by 2030.
  • Yet half the emissions covered by existing systems are under $10 per ton.

The bottom line: "[W]hile we see some encouraging trends, action on carbon pricing is nowhere near where it should be: it still covers only a small part of global emissions at prices too low to significantly reduce emissions," John Roome, the bank's senior director for climate change, writes in the report.

Meanwhile, the UN is urging countries to increase the ambition of pledges under the Paris climate agreement at a summit in September.

Go deeper: Read the whole report.