Press release

UK calls for major changes to EU’s “cap and trade” emissions system

The UK is calling for major reforms to improve the emissions “cap and trade” system put in place by the European Union since 2005 to tackle climate change.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


The UK is calling for major reforms to improve the emissions “cap and trade” system put in place by the European Union since 2005 to tackle climate change.

The EU Emission Trading System (ETS) gives companies from heavy industries and the power sector flexibility to decide whether to invest in carbon abatement or to purchase emission allowances to comply. But the market currently has a surplus of over 2 billion allowances, meaning it is not stimulating the low-carbon investment needed now to meet long-term targets. Various factors such as the economic downturn and an insufficiently ambitious target for 2020 have resulted in a lower than expected demand for allowances, and therefore a weak price signal for low-carbon investment.

The reform measures, published today in a UK government blueprint, are needed to strengthen the ETS so that it helps businesses to deliver future emissions reductions cost-effectively, fosters investment in innovative low-carbon technologies, and protects the competitiveness of UK industries in the transition to a global low-carbon economy.

Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, said:

“The UK is asking for bold and comprehensive reforms to restore the ability of the EU’s Emission Trading System to drive cost-effective emission reduction and low carbon investment.

“A glut of emission allowances on the carbon market has thrown the system off course. This is delaying the low-carbon investment that countries need now to meet long term targets, and thwarting the economic growth that these investments will bring.”

The key reforms the UK is calling for are:

  • Cancellation of surplus allowances before 2020 to help restore the balance between supply and demand, and put the system back on track once and for all. If not tackled, the surplus will continue to depress the carbon price, delaying the low-carbon investment that is needed now to meet our emissions reduction targets cost-effectively. The UK Government is considering the potential of the Market Stability Reserve to address this problem, a mechanism proposed by the European Commission in January.

  • Revision of free allowances provisions. The system of free emission allowances, crucial for certain businesses to stay competitive during the transition to a global low-carbon economy, must continue to protect those who need support most to adjust over the long term. As the amount of free allowances available within the cap continues to fall after 2020, allocation must be based on robust evidence and target the sectors that are genuinely at risk of losing competitiveness.

  • Cutting unnecessary red tape to strike a better balance between fairness, cost-efficiency and simplicity. For example, compliance costs and administrative burdens could be reduced by ensuring that small sources of emissions are treated proportionately. Since 2005, the UK has been using the EU ETS as a key tool to help deliver its statutory emissions reduction target – reduction of 80% by 2050. The UK’s emissions are down by 24% compared to 1990 levels.

A full copy of the vision is available on the GOV.UK website.

Published 16 July 2014