Cap and Trade is Dead, Long Live Cap and Trade

With Proposition 23 in California defeated, the hard and important work on Cap and Trade in the United States can begin again. Advancing the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) will be critical in building a framework in North America for Cap and Trade policy. “A cap-and-trade system is a market-based mechanism that uses market principles to achieve emissions reduction. A core component of a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program is that an emitter must turn in one ‘allowance’ for every metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2) that they emit.” As so defined on the WCI website. As the Great West and Canada agree, Cap and Trade is an important first step in creating a framework for Sustainable Finance initiatives.


Well-funded efforts aimed at shaping public discourse labeling Cap and Trade an “energy tax” obscure debate amongst voters in North America.  Much of these funds come from abroad, from sources less interested in creating jobs in North America than extracting its resources. BP, for example, was generous in its contributions to the Tea Party. If it is a tax at all it is a Pollution Tax. Though it is much more a fee exercised on industries that withdraw essential resources from civilization and return them in degraded form. These resources are part of the public domain and when they are removed from the public trust and diminished, the public should be compensated.

And it is not axiomatic that green jobs and sustainable finance mean net job loss. Indeed, quite the opposite as California and China continue to demonstrate.

Major European financial institutions and policy making bodies lead in advancing Cap and Trade, as well as the broader goal of sustainable finance. Yet clearly there are coordinated European-based attempts to influence U.S. elections in favor of Pollution Rights advocates. A recent report used information from the Open database to track what it labeled Europe’s biggest polluters efforts to influence the U.S. midterm elections: “The European companies are funding almost exclusively Senate candidates who have been outspoken in their opposition to comprehensive climate policy in the US and candidates who actively deny the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and is caused by people.” This report lists BP, BASF, Bayer and Solvay as having made contributions.

Such funding is not restricted to European donations. A report by ThinkProgress, tracked donations to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce from a number of Indian and Middle Eastern oil, coal and electricity companies.

All the while much of the manufactured hysteria about Cap and Trade systems misses the real point. Market based efforts to curb pollution, combat acid rain, and offset global warming, represent merely incremental steps towards sustainable economies and finance. Limited supplies of accessible Carbon will be needed for much more than just fuel. Hence society will need to prioritize its usage and deployment.

There is also another side to the proverbial coin of foreign efforts to hinder Cap and Trade. As Thomas Friedman notes in WikiChina in writing a fictional cable from U.S. based Chinese diplomats back to Beijing: “Most of the Republicans just elected to Congress do not believe what their scientists tell them about man-made climate change. America’s politicians are mostly lawyers — not engineers or scientists like ours — so they’ll just say crazy things about science and nobody calls them on it. It’s good. It means they will not support any bill to spur clean energy innovation, which is central to our next five-year plan. And this ensures that our efforts to dominate the wind, solar, nuclear and electric car industries will not be challenged by America.”

So while China continues to dump Carbon on the US, it is quickly consolidating its lead in some of the most lucrative technology and financial markets for the coming decades. One could be forgiven in wondering if they too, might have an interest in keeping the US electorate in the dark about Cap and Trade and sustainable finance. As per our last post, George Schultz’s business thesis may have more facets than meet the eye as well.