China GETS ready for carbon trading

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Today's report that cement producers from Taiwan are preparing for new Chinese NOx regulations is yet another reaction to several 'seismic' shifts of government-led change rocking the industry in China. These have included the closure of old, inefficient capacity and significant implementation of waste-heat recovery (WHR) systems. Last week's launch of the Guangdong Emissions Trading Scheme (GETS) is one more.

As reported by Reuters Point Carbon, GETS involves four cement plants from the start and it is the largest of seven such provincial schemes. It is as big and bold as the manufacturing hub that it covers. It includes over 800 manufacturing sites and will regulate the emissions from 42% of all power consumed in Guangdong and 63% of all its industrial emissions. It will be the fifth biggest ETS in the world after those in the EU, Australia, California and South Korea.

While GETS is large, the rate that it will be implemented will be more restrained. There will be three years of testing (2012-2015), an 'improvement period' (2016- 2020) and a proper market from 2020. The scheme's progress will be watched closely - its success or failure could determine the shape of emissions trading schemes (ETS) across China and the rest of Asia.

While the aims of ETS are laudable, they have met with 'mixed' reviews in other parts of the world. In Australia in 2011, there were dire warnings of the potential for job-losses and carbon-leakage, with China itself identified as a probable destination for both.

In Europe there is now a strong claim that the EU-ETS has been ineffective, with carbon prices slumping to under Euro10/credit (~US$13/credit), less than a quarter of projected levels for 2012. In the midst of the downturn Ireland's CRH 'earned' millions of Euros in unused credits. Security has also been a problem for the EU-ETS.

Even GETS, less than a month old, has drawn criticism. Unnamed commentators have suggested that the higher-than-expected prices, US$9.50/credit, (only slightly lower than in Europe), already look like the result of collusion in the market.

With all of these concerns, the immediate demand from the cement producers, China Resources Cement, Sinoma, Taipai and Yangchun Hailuo, looks a little strange. However, local media reports that there are advantages to be gained by buying early. All of the four producers have to buy credits for cement plant projects they are currently working on. They are gambling on the fact that carbon prices can only rise - something that is not expected by analysts.

In addition the producers can gain valuable experience of the scheme before it has to be used 'in anger,' which may give them an operational advantage over others. They also know that, unlike in other parts of the world, the government will not backtrack on its decision. Recent NOx regulations, closure of older capacity and implementation of WHR have all been imposed (or are being imposed) from above. They know that it is better to jump into the deep end than to be pushed.

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