Britain’s Worst Carbon Polluters Set For Multi-Million Pound Windfall

  • Published on September 15th, 2008

An in-depth investigation by The Guardian newspaper has revealed that many of Britain’s most polluting companies stand to receive a windfall of hundreds of millions of pounds, with no benefit to the environment.

The huge handout comes as a result of the over allocation of carbon permits to some of the biggest names in world business, including Ford, Toyota and pharmaceuticals giant Astra Zeneca.

Under the European Union’s flagship carbon trading scheme, permits are distributed to companies by the government, and are intended to account for their carbon emissions over the following five year period. However, figures published by the European Commission reveal that many recipients have been allocated far too many permits, which they can sell for cash. The total over-allocation runs to nine million permits across 200 companies. At the current price of £21, these could be sold for a total of £189 million (around $340 million).

The windfall has been perceived as grossly unfair by most of the environmental community. According to Bryony Worthington, founder of Sandbag, “The way this is set up the environment takes all the risk and business doesn’t take any. Hundreds of companies have been given a free ride while those that do have to buy permits can simply pass on the costs.” Later this week, Sandbag will launch a campaign that aims to take a million permits out of circulation, by pressuring companies to give up surplus credits. The hope is that this will raise the price and make companies more likely to invest in clean technology.

On the back of this revelation, environmentalists are likely to be keeping a close eye on developments in similar schemes across the world. In Australia, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme has already been criticised for setting unambitious carbon reduction targets, whereas the ‘cap and dividend’ scheme proposed by presidential candidate Barack Obama may return the proceeds to consumers.

Other Posts on Climate Change and ‘Cap and Trade’:

Image Credit – lady_lbrty via flickr on a creative commons license

About the Author

is a writer and freelance journalist specialising in sustainability and green issues. He lives in Cardiff, Wales.

1 comment

  • The Guardian's investigation does point out an issue with the allocation of permits, but it doesn't cast the trading scheme in a fair light.

    It is the overall allocation that should matter to environmentalists. As the Guardian's analysis shows, the UK's allocation will require reductions of 60 million tonnes of CO2 per year.

    More importantly, the annual allocation across the EU between 2008 and 2012 is 7% below 2007 emissions. Emission permits have not been over-allocated.

    The numbers in the Guardian show that some companies have more credits than they need, while others don't have enough. This is a financial issue for these individual companies, but it should not be a significant issue for environmentalists.

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