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Electricity regulation in the Chinese national emissions trading scheme (ETS): lessons for carbon leakage and linkage with the EU ETS

Yingying Zeng, Stefan E. Weishaar and Hans H. B. Vedder

Climate Policy, 2018, vol. 18, issue 10, 1246-1259

Abstract: Carbon leakage is central to the discussion on how to mitigate climate change. The current carbon leakage literature focuses largely on industrial production, and less attention has been given to carbon leakage from the electricity sector (the largest source of carbon emissions in China). Moreover, very few studies have examined in detail electricity regulation in the Chinese national emissions trading system (which leads, for example, to double counting) or addressed its implications for potential linkage between the EU and Chinese emissions trading systems (ETSs). This article seeks to fill this gap by analysing the problem of ‘carbon leakage’ from the electricity sector under the China ETS. Specifically, a Law & Economics approach is applied to scrutinize legal documents on electricity/carbon regulation and examine the economic incentive structures of stakeholders in the inter-/intra-regional electricity markets. Two forms of ‘electricity carbon leakage’ are identified and further supported by legal evidence and practical cases. Moreover, the article assesses the environmental and economic implications for the EU of potential linkage between the world’s two largest ETSs. In response, policy suggestions are proposed to address electricity carbon leakage, differentiating leakage according to its sources.Key policy insightsElectricity carbon leakage in China remains a serious issue that has yet to receive sufficient attention. Such leakage arises from the current electricity/carbon regulatory framework in China and jeopardizes mitigation efforts. With the US retreat on climate efforts, evidence suggests that EU officials are looking to China and expect an expanded carbon market to reinforce EU global climate leadership. Given that the Chinese ETS will be twice the size of the EU ETS, a small amount of carbon leakage in China could have significant repercussions. Electricity carbon leakage should thus be considered in any future EU–China linking negotiations.

Date: 2018
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