Emissions Trading System

By Paul Davies and Andrew Westgate

Chinese policymakers have indicated that the country’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) — which will be the largest system of its kind globally and the centerpiece of Chinese climate change policy — is likely to launch in November 2017 “at the very earliest”. The delay will enable China to announce the launch at the next UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany. However, Chinese officials have privately indicated that this likely will be a “formal” launch only, with allocation of emissions allowances and compliance obligations coming into effect during 2018. As a result, several of the existing ETS pilot programmes in Chinese provinces and major cities have begun to announce new allowance allocations for 2017, including for sectors covered by the national ETS.

The delay reflects a number of policy challenges that regulators at the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), China’s primary economic policy-making body, have struggled with in designing the ETS. For example, difficulties in obtaining accurate emissions data for each industrial sector covered by the system, determining benchmarks for the allocation of free allowances to industry, and whether pilot programmes may use offset credits (Chinese Certified Emissions Reductions) to satisfy compliance obligations during the initial compliance period. Verifying emissions data has been an issue for regulators managing China’s eight pilot programmes, with the Hubei Province recently delaying its compliance deadline due to problems verifying total emissions for 2016. The carbon market remains concerned about a potential oversupply of offset credits and reports that policymakers will exclude offset credits from the initial compliance phase of the new National ETS.

By Paul Davies and Andrew Westgate

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), China’s central economic planning agency, issued several guidance documents relating to the upcoming national Emissions Trading System (ETS) in January this year. The documents, released in Chinese only, include: the forms that companies will be required to use to report their annual carbon emissions to NDRC;  the list of industries that will be subject to the ETS; the requirements for companies and personnel involved in the verification process; and a verification reference guide.

These guidance documents build on the preliminary rules for the ETS that NDRC released in December 2014, and represent another step in the development of the ETS, which President Xi Jinping has announced will be launched in 2017.