Carbon Pricing-The Way to a Net-Zero Emissions Planet

Written by Enrique Lendo, Business Development Mexico Advisor.

Adopted in 2015, the Paris agreement sets the objective to stabilize the average increase of global temperature at 1.5 °C to avoid widely documented catastrophic effects. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), this target will be reached only if global emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) peak in 2030 and become net zero by 2050.

The transformation required to decarbonize our economy is monumental. It implies reconfiguring our energy mix, electrifying our transport systems, reverting deforestation rates, boosting resource efficiency and building smart cities, among many others. The OECD estimates that the investment cost in infrastructure to achieve the global climate change and sustainable development goals will be close to 7$ trillion dollars a year, equal to the GDP of Mexico multiplied by 5. 

Who is to pay for the transition cost? It is very likely that the only feasible alternative to drive the energy transition at the speed required by the Paris Agreement is the massive adoption of “carbon pricing schemes”, which are based on the “polluter pays principle”.

According to the World Bank, carbon pricing schemes throughout the world have increased exponentially going from 7 in 2000 to 61 today. Thirty of these are carbon taxes and 31 are emission trading systems (ETS). Carbon pricing schemes are applied both by national and subnational governments, cover 22% of global emissions and collected $ 45 billion dollars in 2019. Through immediate signals to economic agents, they induce innovation, resource efficiency and important changes to production and consumption patterns. 

Mexico was the first country in Latin America to adopt a carbon tax in 2014, which has collected $ 1.8 billion dollars since its operation began. Mexico´s ETS pilot program was launched this year, considering companies with 100,000 + tones of CO2 emissions from the energy and industrial sectors. The ETS will become fully operational in 2023 and become the first of its kind in the region.

Besides the carbon pricing schemes adopted at the federal level, in the last days some subnational governments in Mexico have shown interest to adopt GHG emissions taxes under environmental and public finance grounds, as well as in reaction to policies adopted at the federal level which prevent the transition to renewable energy. A couple of weeks ago, Tamaulipas became the first subnational government in Mexico to adopt a carbon tax and the state government of Jalisco announced that its carbon tax will enter into force in 2021. The states of Nuevo León, Coahuila, Durango, Michoacán, Colima and Guanajuato are also considering similar taxes.

While carbon pricing schemes around the world have advanced notably, their impact are still insufficient. According to the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition (CPLC), the price level to achieve the goal of the Paris Agreement needs to reach $75 dollars per ton of CO2 in 2030. Half of the schemes currently operating around the world have set the price below $10 dollars and Mexico´s carbon tax is only $2 dollars per ton. In this context, it is imperative to secure a substantial increase both in the price level and in the emissions covered by carbon pricing schemes to induce the transformation required. In the same line, it will be necessary to link schemes within and between countries.  

Finally, to foster social acceptance, it is essential that carbon pricing policies consider compensation and transition measures to affected sectors and consumers, which can be financed with the same revenues. The post-Covid economic recovery process provides an opportunity to adjust the relative prices of energy in order to transit towards carbon neutrality by 2050.

Article originally published in Mexico´s newspaper Reforma

Monica de Oliveira