Global Carbon Trading Is Dying

  • Date: 22/03/11

‘All the people who went into carbon trading have failed and moved out. There’s not enough volume, not enough pay and not enough investment.’

Vibhav Nuwal was once an enthusiastic supporter of the global carbon market. The 32-year- old Indian-born banker started in September 2009 developing carbon credits to target investors in Europe and Japan for Mumbai-based private-equity fund Managing Emissions. Less than a year later, he quit his job, convinced that the United Nations’ failure to broker a global agreement to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions meant the carbon credit market was effectively dead.

Now, Nuwal has set up a business helping companies that earn incentives from renewable-energy projects under a new Indian government program. Nuwal says that in the absence of a global consensus, investors are more likely to channel funds into incentive programs in local markets such as India, where they can make three times as much as they do selling credits under the global, UN-sponsored plan, Bloomberg Markets reports in its May issue.

“There is a base being built for a really strong local economy around this,” says Nuwal, a former JPMorgan Chase & Co. investment banker. “Carbon is getting more and more difficult. A significant amount of the business that is done in the carbon space should shift.”

Nuwal’s decision is one more sign that the consensus eventually reached 14 years ago by 193 nations and the European Union in Kyoto, Japan, may have cracked beyond repair. The plan, which introduced greenhouse-gas restrictions to support the development of a global carbon market, is breaking down as the U.S. and China grapple over how, when and to what extent they can reduce pollution.

‘Plan B’

With the two biggest economies blocking progress on emissions, global temperatures last year matched the record highs of 2005 while droughts and flooding wrecked harvests from Karachi to Rio de Janeiro. Today, the price of carbon languishes at less than half the level Deutsche Bank AG says is needed to meet the UN’s aims for controlling global warming. Officials and investors say local initiatives like Nuwal’s may offer the best chance of both slowing emissions and making money from the process.

“People are moving on to Plan B,” says John O. Niles, director of San Diego-based Tropical Forest Group, a nonprofit lobbying organization. “That means taking what we can get wherever we can get it.”

The latest casualties of the death of the Kyoto plan may be the companies and executives who bet their careers and their capital that credits to release carbon into the environment would become a globally traded commodity to rival the $21 trillion market in crude oil. So far, the carbon market is a comparative blip on the landscape. Banks and brokers traded 93 billion euros ($128 billion) of carbon credits last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

‘Not Enough Investment’

“All the people I’ve seen who went into carbon trading have failed and moved out,” says Jason Kennedy, chief executive officer of London-based headhunter Kennedy Associates. “There’s not enough volume, not enough pay and not enough investment.”

Even some pilot programs are being shut down.

IntercontinentalExchange Inc. closed its voluntary carbon- trading platform on the Chicago Climate Exchange on Jan. 31, while JPMorgan Chase shut down carbon credit origination at several offices and fired staff after acquiring EcoSecurities Group Plc, the biggest offset developer. The Geneva-based International Emissions Trading Association says its membership has declined about 16 percent since the international divisions emerged at the 2009 annual climate summit held in Copenhagen.

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