A Permit to Pollute - or the Ticket to a Green Future; Environment Mixed Views as Carbon Trading Becomes Reality

Article excerpt

Byline: By KELLEY PRICE, ENVIRONMENT REPORTER

THE time to act is now.

That's the message for the Tees Valley's heaviest polluters, as the EU's carbon trading scheme takes hold.

For the first time green actions can equate to the green stuff, as CO2 - or the right to emit it - becomes a currency for business.

Some Tees Valley companies trading globally have labelled the EU's Emissions Trading System (ETS) as unfair.

And while the scheme has been hailed as a far better solution towards global warming than simple taxation, it has also been slammed as a permit to pollute, with its free credits for certain companies.

A personal carbon credit card nestling in our wallet may be a long way off, but for businesses in the Tees Valley, carbon has been a highly-covetable commodity class for several years.

The ETS is the largest mandatory scheme in the world, affecting around 10,000 of the largest polluters - including companies from the Tees Valley.

Other countries including Australia, New Zealand and the US and Canada are following suit.

Under ETS, companies are given an allowance for the amount of CO2 their business activities can produce.

If they exceed their allowance, they must buy carbon certificates to cover the excess and pay a penalty on top.

If they fall short, they can make money by selling surplus certificates to other companies across the EU.

Companies' allowances under the scheme are divided into phases - Phase I ran from 2005-2008, Phase II will run until 2013 and regulations are expected to get more stringent as time goes on.

Paul Wylie, senior carbon trader with banking giant Lloyds TSB, said: "Carbon trading affects industries such as large power generators and chemical producers in the Tees Valley and the rest of the UK.

"We are still in the measuring period, but preparing for the scheme is not an overnight process.

"The key message to businesses is to start thinking now about how carbon trading will affect them and how they can find solutions to their energy spends so they are prepared when Phase II of the scheme comes to an end.

"The ETS allows the markets to determine the price of carbon and encourages companies to pollute less.

"It creates innovation - those people who take action are rewarded for their efforts.

"A taxation approach would achieve the same overall reduction on emissions but there's no incentive for a company to be as environmentally pro-active.

"Carbon always had a cost, it just wasn't accounted for and people didn't value it. Setting a price changes the choices that are made."

But certain companies affected by the scheme have less praise for its practices.

Steel giant Corus, which employs 1,900 staff and 1,000 contractors in the Tees Valley, has claimed the ETS scheme harms the competitiveness of European steel-making. Corus was one of the businesses to be allocated an excess of certificates when the scheme began, but according to its latest report, the company expected to end Phase I falling just short of its carbon allowance. …