A surplus of emission allowances has built up in the EU emissions trading system (ETS) since 2009. The European Commission is addressing this through short- and long-term measures.
The surplus of allowances is largely due to the economic crisis (which reduced emissions more than anticipated) and high imports of international credits. This has led to lower carbon prices and thus a weaker incentive to reduce emissions.
In the short term, the surplus risks undermining the orderly functioning of the carbon market. In the longer term it could affect the ability of the ETS to meet more demanding emission reduction targets cost-effectively.
The surplus amounted to around 2 billion allowances at the start of phase 3 and increased further to more than 2.1 billion in 2013. In 2015, it was reduced to around 1.78 billion as a consequence of back-loading. Without this, the surplus would have been almost 40% higher at the end of 2015.
As a short-term measure the Commission postponed the auctioning of 900 million allowances until 2019-2020.
This ‘back-loading’ of auction volumes does not reduce the overall number of allowances to be auctioned during phase 3, only the distribution of auctions over the period.
The auction volume is reduced by
The impact assessment shows that back-loading can rebalance supply and demand in the short term and reduce price volatility without any significant impacts on competitiveness.
Back-loading was implemented through an amendment to the EU ETS Auctioning Regulation, which entered into force on 27 February 2014.
The reserve will:
The 900 million allowances that were back-loaded in 2014-2016 will be transferred to the reserve rather than auctioned in 2019-2020.
Unallocated allowances will also be transferred to the reserve. The exact amount will only be known in 2020. However, market analysts estimate that around 550 to 700 million allowances could remain unallocated by 2020 (see impact assessment accompanying the legislative proposal for the revision of the EU ETS).
The reserve will operate entirely according to pre-defined rules that leave no discretion to the Commission or Member States in its implementation.
Each year, the Commission will publish by 15 May the total number of allowances in circulation. This will serve as the exclusive indicator on
Efforts to address the market imbalance would also be helped by a faster reduction of the annual emissions cap. This is part of the Commission's proposal for the revision of the EU ETS. In this context, discussions are currently being held in the Council and the European Parliament on temporarily doubling the rate at which allowances will be placed in the reserve.
Input into the debate on structural measures included: