|The EU Emissions Trading System:|
A 'cap and trade' system
The EU ETS works on the 'cap and trade' principle. A cap is set on the total amount of certain greenhouse gases that can be emitted by the operators covered by the system. The cap is reduced over time so that total emissions fall.
Within the cap, operators buy or receive emissions allowances, which they can trade with one another as needed. The limit on the total number of allowances available ensures that they have a value. The price signal incentivises emission reductions and promotes investment in innovative, low-carbon technologies, whilst trading brings flexibility that ensures emissions are cut where it costs least to do so.
After each year, an operator must surrender enough allowances to cover fully its emissions, otherwise heavy fines are imposed. If an installation reduces its emissions, it can keep the spare allowances to cover its future needs or else sell them to another operator that is short of allowances.
Revenues from the sale of allowances in the EU ETS mostly feed into Member States’ budgets. Allowances are also auctioned to supply the funds supporting innovation in low-carbon technologies and the energy transition: the Innovation Fund and the Modernisation Fund.
Sectors & gases covered
The EU ETS covers the following sectors and gases, focusing on emissions that can be measured, reported and verified with a high level of accuracy:
- carbon dioxide (CO2) from
- electricity and heat generation,
- energy-intensive industry sectors, including oil refineries, steel works, and production of iron, aluminium, metals, cement, lime, glass, ceramics, pulp, paper, cardboard, acids and bulk organic chemicals,
- aviation within the European Economic Area and departing flights to Switzerland and the United Kingdom;
- maritime transport
- nitrous oxide (N2O) from production of nitric, adipic and glyoxylic acids and glyoxal;
- perfluorocarbons (PFCs) from the production of aluminium.
Participation in the EU ETS is mandatory for companies in these sectors, but:
- in some sectors, only operators above a certain size are included,
- certain small installations can be excluded if governments put in place fiscal or other measures that will cut their emissions by an equivalent amount,
- in the aviation sector, until at least 31 December 2026 the EU ETS will apply only to flights between airports located in the European Economic Area. As of 1 January 2019, aircraft operators are required to monitor and report their emissions also for the European Economic Area.
The legislative framework of the EU ETS is spelled out in the ETS Directive.
The system operates in trading phases. Now into its fourth trading phase (2021-2030), the ETS framework has undergone several revisions to maintain the system’s alignment with the overarching EU climate policy objectives.
The legislative framework for phase 4 of the EU ETS was first revised in 2018 in line with the EU's 2030 climate and energy framework. However, in view of the European Green Deal and EU’s more ambitious climate targets, another revision of the EU ETS framework for phase 4 was launched in 2021.
On 14 July 2021, the European Commission proposed to strengthen the EU ETS, extend emissions trading to new sectors and set up a new Social Climate Fund to address the impacts of carbon pricing on vulnerable groups. These proposals were adopted and became law in 2023. You can find them in the Official Journal of the EU.
Delivering emissions reductions
Under the European Climate Law, EU Member States will work collectively to become climate neutral by 2050. As a first milestone, the EU is aiming to reduce net emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990. The EU ETS will contribute to delivering this target.
By 2030, the cap on emissions from sectors covered by the EU ETS is set to decrease by 62% compared to 2005 levels.
The EU ETS has already proven to be an effective tool in helping drive emissions reductions cost-effectively. Installations covered by the ETS reduced emissions by about 35% between 2005 and 2021 (comparing ETS emissions from stationary installations in 2021, without the UK, only electricity generators in Northern Ireland, to an adjusted value of 2005 emissions observing the same scope).
The introduction of the Market Stability Reserve in 2019 has resulted in higher and more robust carbon prices, which helped ensure a year-on-year reduction in emissions from ETS installations of 9% in 2019, with a 14.9% reduction in electricity and heat production and a 1.9% reduction in industry.
Developing the carbon market
Set up in 2005, the EU ETS is the world's first international emissions trading system. It has since continued to inspire the development of emissions trading in other countries and regions.
The EU supports these efforts through knowledge exchange and capacity building activities. The EU also considers opportunities to link the EU ETS with other compatible systems.
In 2017, the EU and Switzerland signed an agreement to link their emissions trading systems. The agreement entered into force on 1 January 2020, and the link became operational in September that year.
New emissions trading system for buildings, road transport and additional sectors
A separate emissions trading system for fuel combustion in buildings, road transport and additional sectors (mainly small industry not covered by the existing ETS) is created. It complements other Green Deal policies covering this sectors by ensuring cost-efficient emissions reductions and a more level playing field for decarbonisation in these sectors. This “upstream” system regulates fuel suppliers rather than households and car drivers.
The new system is designed to operate in an orderly, smooth and efficient manner from 2027, while monitoring and reporting starts already 2025. Its cap is set to achieve 42% emission reductions in 2030 compared to 2005 levels, in line with the contribution of the sectors covered to the 2030 climate target. Elements of a smooth start include front-loading of auctioning of allowances in 2027, a Market Stability Reserve, a price stability mechanism for the initial years and mechanisms against excessive price increases. A safeguard has been put in place whereby if the price of oil or gas are exceptionally high in the run up to the start of the new system, this will be postponed until 2028.
Revenues from the auctioning of emissions allowances beyond contributions to the new Social Climate Fund go directly to Member States and have to be spent for climate and social purposes.
The legislative framework of the second ETS is spelled out in the ETS Directive, in particular Chapter IVa.
Social Climate Fund
The Social Climate Fund will start operating from 2026 to address the social impacts arising from the inclusion of the buildings and road transport sectors in the new emission trading system on vulnerable groups in the EU, especially those affected by energy or mobility poverty, to ensure that the transition is fair and leaves no one behind.
Specifically, the Social Climate Fund can be used by Member States to finance structural measures and investments. These can be in energy efficiency and the renovation of buildings, clean heating and cooling, and integration of renewable energy as well as in zero- and low-emission mobility and transport, including public transport. Member States will also have the option of spending part of the resources of their plan on temporary direct income support – pending the impact of the investments on reducing vulnerable groups’ emissions and energy bills.
Thanks to revenues from the emissions trading system for buildings, road transport and additional sectors, together with the Member States' contributions, the Social Climate Fund will mobilise EUR 86.7 billion from 2026 to 2032.
- 10/05/2023 - Regulation (EU) 2023/955 establishing a Social Climate Fund and amending Regulation (EU) 2021/1060
- 10/05/2023 - Regulation (EU) 2023/957 amending Regulation (EU) 2015/757 in order to provide for the inclusion of maritime transport activities in the EU Emissions Trading System and for the monitoring, reporting and verification of emissions of additional greenhouse gases and emissions from additional ship types
- 10/05/2023 - Directive 2023/959 amending Directive 2003/87/EC establishing a system for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading within the Union and Decision (EU) 2015/1814 concerning the establishment and operation of a market stability reserve for the Union greenhouse gas emission trading system
- 08/04/2018 - Directive 2003/87/EC establishing a scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading
- 19/03/2018 - Directive (EU) 2018/410 amending Directive 2003/87/EC to enhance cost-effective emission reductions and low-carbon investments, and Decision (EU) 2015/1814
- 23/04/2009 - Directive 2009/29/EC amending Directive 2003/87/EC to improve and extend the greenhouse gas emission allowance trading scheme
- 19/11/2008 - Directive 2008/101/EC amending Directive 2003/87/EC to include aviation activities in the scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading
- 27/10/2004 - Directive 2004/101/EC amending Directive 2003/87/EC establishing a scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading
- 2003 - Impact assessment on the Directive amending Directive 2003/87/EC establishing a scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading
- 13/10/2003 - Directive 2003/87/EC establishing a scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading and amending Council Directive 96/61/EC
- 07/07/2020 - Notice - UK role in the ETS after Brexit
- 06/02/2019 - Commission Regulation (EU) 2019/741 - List of aircraft operators who performed an aviation activity listed in Annex I to Directive 2003/87/EC (to become applicable only if Regulation (EC) No 748/2009 ceases to apply to the UK after Brexit)
- 14/12/2022 - COM(2022) 516 - Report on the functioning of the European carbon market
- SWD(2022) 407 - Commission staff working document accompanying the report
- 26/10/2021 - COM(2021) 962 - Report on the functioning of the European carbon market
- SWD(2021) 308 - Commission staff working document accompanying the report
- 18/11/2020 - COM(2020) 740 - Report on the functioning of the European carbon market
- 31/10/2019 - COM(2019) 557 - Report on the functioning of the European carbon market
- 17/12/2018 - COM(2018) 842 - Report on the functioning of the European carbon market
- 23/11/2017 - COM(2017) 693 - Report on the functioning of the European carbon market
- 01/02/2017 - COM(2017) 48 - Report on the functioning of the European carbon market
- 18/11/2015 - COM(2015) 576 - Report on the functioning of the European carbon market
- 14/11/2012 - COM(2012) 652 - State of the European carbon market in 2012
- 04/02/2011 - European Council conclusions of 4 February 2011 (see conclusions 23 and 24)
- 18/03/2010 - Guidance on interpretation of Annex I of the EU ETS Directive (excl. aviation activities)
- 06/04/2009 - Council press release on the adoption of the climate and energy package
- 12/12/2008 - Presidency conclusions of the European Council (11 and 12 December 2008)
- 12/12/2008 - European Council Statement on the use of auction revenues
- 23/01/2008 - Proposal for a Directive amending Directive 2003/87/EC to improve and extend the greenhouse gas emission allowance trading system
- 23/01/2008 - Commission accompanying document to the Proposal for a Directive amending Directive 2003/87/EC to improve and extend the EU greenhouse gas emission allowance trading system - Impact assessment
- Phase 4 (2021-2030) EU ETS cap for general allowances
- 04/07/2013 - Amended Draft Regulation on determining international credit entitlements
- 05/06/2013 - Draft regulation on determining international credit entitlements
- 05/05/2013 - Commission Regulation 389/2013 establishing a Union Registry
- 18/11/2011 - Commission Regulation establishing a Union Registry for the trading period commencing 1 January 2013 (and subsequent trading periods) of the emissions trading scheme
- 07/10/2010 - Commission Regulation 920/2010 for a standardised and secured system of registries
- 08/10/2008 - Commission Regulation 994/2008 for a standardised and secured system of registries (version applicable until 31 December 2011)
- 26/10/2007 - EEA Joint Committee Decision No 146/2007 linking the EU ETS with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein
- 13/11/2006 - Commission Decision 2006/780/EC on avoiding double counting of greenhouse gas emission reductions under the ETS
- 21/12/2004 - Consolidated version of Commission Regulation 2216/2004 for a standardised and secured system of registries (version not including changes brought by Regulation of 18 November 2011)
Work prior to the Commission proposal
- 08/02/2000 - COM(2000) 87 - Green Paper on greenhouse gas emissions trading within the EU
- Mandate and results of ECCP Working Group 1: Flexible mechanisms
- 04/09/2001 - Chairman's summary record of stakeholder consultation meeting (with industry and environmental NGOs)
- 19/05/1999 - COM(1999) 230 - Preparing for implementation of the Kyoto Protocol
- 03/06/1998 - COM(1998) 353 - Climate change - Towards an EU post-Kyoto strategy
- Scope of the EU ETS:
- Further harmonisation and increased predictability:
- 12/2006 - Report on international competitiveness
- ECCP working group on emissions trading on the review of the EU ETS
- 15/06/2007 - Final report of the 4th meeting on linking with emissions trading systems in non-EU countries
- 22/05/2007 - Final report of the 3rd meeting on further harmonisation and increased predictability
- 26/04/2007 - Final report of the 2nd meeting on robust compliance and enforcement
- 09/03/2007 - Final report of the 1st meeting on the scope of the Directive
Commission proposal of October 2001
- 22/01/2002 - Non-paper on synergies between the EU emissions trading proposal (COM(2001)581) and the IPPC Directive
- 23/10/2001 - COM(2001) 581 - Proposal for a framework Directive for greenhouse gas emissions trading
Commission's reaction to reading of the proposal in Council and Parliament (including Council's common position)
- 18/07/2003 - COM(2003) 463 - Commission opinion on the European Parliament's amendments to the Council's common position regarding the proposal for a Directive
- 20/06/2003 - COM(2003) 364 - Commission Communication to the European Parliament concerning the Council's common position on the adoption of a Directive establishing a scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading
- 18/03/2003 - Common position (EC) No 28/2003 - Council's common position on the adoption of a Directive establishing a scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading
- 27/11/2002 - COM(2002) 680 - Amended proposal for a Directive establishing a scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading