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Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trading Scheme (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2023

Volume 834: debated on Monday 20 November 2023

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trading Scheme (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2023.

My Lords, this order was laid before the House on 19 September. The UK Emissions Trading Scheme—the ETS—was established under the Climate Change Act 2008 by the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trading Scheme Order 2020 as a UK-wide greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme to encourage cost-effective emissions reductions, contributing to the UK’s emissions reduction target and, of course, ultimately our net-zero goal.

The scheme is run by the UK ETS authority, which is a joint body comprising the UK Government and the devolved Governments. Our aim is to be predictable and responsible guardians of the scheme and its markets. In doing so, we will ensure that the scheme remains a cornerstone of our ambitious climate policy.

We have brought forward this SI to implement a number of necessary changes and improvements to the scheme. The changes relating to aviation free allocation rules and to the treatment of electricity generators follow the announcements made by the UK ETS authority in July in our response to last year’s consultation on developing the UK ETS. The final change remedies an inconsistency around free allocation and carbon capture at UK ETS installations. On aviation, this SI will cap the total amount of aviation free allocation that operators are eligible to receive at 100% of their verified emissions.

This SI makes technical changes to free allocation rules regarding the electricity generator classification for industrial installations. It will amend the electricity generator classification to consider only electricity exports in the baseline period, instead of all electricity exports since 2005, allowing operators to change their installation’s electricity generator classification if they have put a stop to the export of electricity. Electricity exports represent no more than 5% of the total produced allowances and will also be excluded from consideration in this classification.

The SI will amend the electricity generator definition to exclude installations that have produced electricity for sale if that electricity was produced by means of a high-quality combined heat and power plant, operating as part of an operator’s industrial activity. This will limit reductions in free allocation entitlements and provide further encouragement for industrial operators to achieve improved efficiency for their combined heat and power plants.

The SI also makes an operational amendment to the electricity generator classification. The SI will allow electricity generators to be eligible for free allowances after the application date if they can demonstrate that they produced measurable heat by means of high-efficiency co-generation during the allocation period.

The SI also remedies an inconsistency in the legislation to make it clear that carbon capture and other types of regulated activity may be carried out on the site of the same installation. The SI will allow provision of free allowances to industrial installations at the same site as a carbon capture plant.

As the Northern Ireland Assembly is not sitting and cannot consider affirmative legislation, this statutory instrument therefore covers only Great Britain. Officials in Northern Ireland have agreed that that none of the provisions currently affects operators in Northern Ireland.

These changes deliver on commitments made by the UK ETS authority and improve the operation of the scheme. For aviation, the SI will ensure that aviation free allocation is distributed appropriately until full auctioning for the aviation sector in 2026. This follows the decision announced in July that aviation free allocation will be phased out by 2026.

On free allocation technical changes, the SI will ensure that installations classed as electricity generators, whose eligibility for free allocation is limited, are able to change their classification if they are no longer exporting electricity. The SI will also ensure that industrial installations with high-quality combined heat and power plants which export excess electricity to the grid are not classified as electricity generators so as to not limit eligibility for free allowances.

On the electricity generator operational amendment, the SI will ensure that electricity generators can become eligible for free allowances during an allocation period if they meet the eligibility criteria. On free allocation rules around carbon capture, the SI will prevent industrial installations being disqualified from receiving free allowances if they are on the same site as a carbon capture plant—a situation that could pose a risk of disincentivising the uptake of carbon capture technology.

These changes either follow appropriate and comprehensive consultation with stakeholders or did not require consultation. In developing the UK ETS consultation in 2022, the UK ETS authority considered what technical improvements can be made to the current aviation free allocation methodology until free allocation is phased out. The responses to the consultation called for an end to the overallocation of aviation free allocation. In addition, the policy intent of aviation free allocation is to mitigate the risk of carbon leakage, and the policy did not intend for aircraft operators to receive more allowances than their verified emissions. To that end, in July the UK ETS authority announced the decision to cap aviation free allocation at 100% of verified emissions.

In the consultation on developing the UK ETS, we considered technical changes to free allocation rules regarding the electricity generator classification. The majority of respondents agreed with our suggested amendments, and the UK ETS authority announced that it would proceed with changes to the electricity generator classification. A consultation was not carried out for the CCUS free allocation amendment as this is a clarification of existing policy intention and not a change in policy.

In conclusion, these alterations to the UK Emissions Trading Scheme will support its role as a key pillar of the UK’s climate policy. They show that we will take action to improve the scheme where necessary and continue our record of delivering on our commitments. I therefore commend this order to the Committee.

My Lords, perhaps I may make a few comments in front of the crowd here. I welcome the SI generally , obviously, and want to try to ensure that it works properly. I have a couple of specific questions.

I am interested in understanding how the free allocations were allocated or what the baseline was for the airlines. Also, in the scheme as a whole, what proportion of units are free issue these days? I would be very interested to hear that for the current period, which I think goes up to 2026.

The Minister referred to the UK ETS as the cornerstone of ambition in terms of net zero, but of course, that cornerstone is crumbling at the moment. I would be very interested to hear, more strategically, how the Minister sees the fall in the carbon price per tonne, which has moved this year from around £100 at one point down to under £50.

To me, that seems to be, in the words of Energy UK, a major disincentive to investment in the renewables sector. As I understand it, it has threatened the Treasury to the tune of £1 billion so far this year and will mean a hit of something like £3 billion on the Treasury per annum if that price continues. As we know, there is also a threat from the European Union’s move to a carbon border adjustment mechanism—particularly in 2026, when those measures will really start to bite. There is a feeling that UK industry’s exports to the European Union could be threatened by some £500 million per year if that price remains as it is. I want to know the Minister’s understanding of why the price has fallen so much. My economics A-level tells me that, with supply and demand, when demand stays roughly the same but the price goes down, there is an all-round surplus in the supply of those units. However, there is also a volatility there, perhaps through a lack of liquidity in the scheme as a whole.

Looking again at the trade and co-operation agreement, particularly the area of energy in 2025, I would be interested to understand whether this is an opportunity to bring those trading schemes more together again, which was a target that the Government sought to achieve when that agreement was first made. Clearly, the fall in price strongly affects the renewables and clean energy industries. It seems to me that, not just from a Treasury point of view but from an industry and net zero point of view, we need to get that price back up again. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s comments on how that can be achieved—or indeed whether the Government wish to achieve it.

My Lords, when the UK ETS was established due to the UK’s participation in the EU ETS ending, the Opposition supported it. It is essential that the UK has a robust carbon price to help reduce emissions. So when the UK ETS was launched, we expressed a preference for a link with the EU ETS. Indeed, the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement states that both parties

“shall give serious consideration to linking”,

which would lower the cost of decarbonisation through more price efficiency discovery and easier trade. Most importantly, it would ensure that UK exports of high-carbon products to the EU are exempt from the EU’s carbon border adjustment mechanism. This remains our preference, to support UK businesses in remaining competitive and retaining trade access to critical markets. Can the Minister tell the Committee whether an update on any such consideration is still being considered? Can he also say whether the Government have made any projections on the impact that the CBAM will have on our exports? What is welcome is the seriousness with which the Government are treating this while we remain unliked.

I turn to the instrument itself, which amends the ETS in five areas; I will touch on each of them but do not oppose any of them. As these changes do not seem simply to be updates on the system, I am keen to hear from the Minister how foreseeable the situations that led to them were and what impact the delay in implementing them, from when the UK ETS was established, has had.

First, as we heard from the Minister, the instrument implements a cap on the maximum amount of free allocation that aircraft operators are eligible to receive at 100% of their verified emissions. Not only does this seem to be common sense but, for the next two years, by 2021’s figures, it will save around a fifth by putting an end to overallocations in the sector. That is welcome. Again, by 2021’s numbers, this will prevent around £100 million of potential profits from operators selling these overallocations. Do the Government have any projection for 2024-25 or are the figures on pounds and percentage of emissions expected to be roughly the same? Going back to the first question, could this not have been seen from the start, or was it by design?

Secondly, there is an inconsistency in how carbon capture activities and installations are dealt with—namely that the legislation in some places wrongly assumes that capture activities will be self-contained. Again, there is a sensible fix, but I would be keen to learn what impact, if any, this inconsistency has had on relevant installations’ ability to deduct emissions.

Next, the instrument allows modifiers to reclassify if they have put a stop to the export of electricity or if their electricity exports make up a low enough proportion of their exports, making them eligible for free allocation. Again, this makes sense, but the previous situation is concerning. It seems that, until this instrument, an operator could have halted electricity exports 15 years ago and still be treated as one for the purpose of the ETS, with no mechanism for changing this. Is that correct? What is the impact of this misclassification and on what scale? Looking forward, does the Minister have any projections of how many operators are expected to use this new mechanism and change classification?

Finally, new exemptions from the ineligibility of electricity generators are made for operators with on-site combined heat and power plants, where electricity was produced by means of CHP plants that are quality assurance certified and electricity generators can demonstrate that they have produced heat by high-efficiency cogeneration. The latter is confusing, because this was already the case, but with no mechanism to demonstrate a change in reduction. One wonders how many operators were wrongly accepted on this basis. The Explanatory Memorandum says that there will be “no substantial direct impacts”, so can the Minister enlighten us as to how this could be?

I thank the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Lennie, for their contributions. As I said in opening, the SI will implement a number of necessary changes and improvements to the scheme. The UK ETS is a cornerstone of our climate policy and it sets a cap on emissions in the sectors covered—currently, about a quarter of the UK’s emissions. In doing so, it guarantees that these sectors will reduce their emissions in line with our overall net-zero target. The carbon price generated by the need to acquire allowances within this cap incentivises the investment in decarbonisation that is needed to make sure that we can build a thriving net-zero economy.

In July, the UK Government and the devolved Governments, who all comprise the joint UK ETS authority, set out a comprehensive package of reforms to the scheme. These reforms increase the ambition of the UK ETS, setting its cap on a path to net zero. As set out in that package of reforms in July, a wide range of changes is required to ensure that the ETS remains a key part of the UK’s approach to achieving net zero.

As part of the UK ETS authority, with the devolved Governments, we are determined to run and develop the scheme in the most effective way possible. Our aim is to be predictable and responsible guardians of the scheme and its markets. That is fundamentally why the changes in this SI are being brought forward: to deliver on our previous commitments and make essential improvements to the scheme. The alterations to the scheme that this SI brings about will support its role as a key pillar of the UK’s climate policy. They demonstrate the value of the detailed consultation that we have carried out with scheme participants. We are committed to listening to views and implementing changes where necessary to make the scheme run as efficiently as possible, so that it ultimately achieves its aims. The changes to aviation free allocation and technical changes to free allocation follow the comprehensive consultation on developing the UK ETS carried out last year. They deliver on commitments made in the response to that consultation in July.

I will now pick up on the points made in the debate, first in response to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. We have decided to cap the total amount of aviation free allocation that operators are eligible to receive to ensure that aviation free allocation is distributed appropriately until full auctioning in 2026. In 2021, the level of aviation free allocation issued to operators surpassed the sector’s verified emissions, primarily due to the impacts of Covid-19 on aviation activity. However, even prior to the impacts of Covid-19, under the EU ETS, a number of operators received more free allocations than their verified emissions.

The current aviation free allocation methodology calculation is based on 2010 activity data, which is now of course inconsistent with current aviation activity and creates competitive distortions between participants. Not capping the amount aircraft operators are eligible to receive therefore effectively shields them from the price signal and provides an opportunity to benefit from the scheme, which, I am sure we would all agree, was not the intended aim of the policy. To answer the noble Lord’s question, in 2022, the proportion of UK ETS emissions covered by free allocations was approximately 36%.

On the noble Lord’s point on the fall of the UK ETS price, it is of course a market mechanism, and the price of carbon allowances in the emissions trading scheme is ultimately set by that market. However, in line with the net-zero cap that we announced in July, the supply of emissions allowances entering the market will fall significantly every year from 2024. Using the noble Lord’s supply and demand analogy, we can probably predict—without saying it—what will happen to the price in such circumstances.

As it is a market mechanism, I have some sympathy with the noble Lord’s point of view, but it would probably not be wise for me to comment on the overall price. I will let the market determine what it should be. If I say what I think the ideal target price should be, that would clearly be interfering in the market, which the noble Lord can understand I should not do.

We are committed to continuing to deliver these changes, as shown by our legislating to amend the supply of allowances over the coming years and the publication of the auction calendar for 2024. The authority has also committed to exploring measures for the future of the UK ETS market, including examining the merits of the supply adjustment mechanism, which would be a means of amending the supply of carbon allowances in response to market conditions.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, asked about the impact of the EU CBAM. We are of course following developments closely and engaging with the Commission to discuss the technical considerations relevant to UK manufacturing because, even though EU CBAM charging does not start until 2026, companies will have to report on their emissions from 2024 to 2026, prior to charging. We will see whether the EU proceeds with charging, but it will clearly have a significant effect on many UK companies supplying into the EU market, given the additional bureaucracy they will have to go through. Noble Lords should watch this space: I am sure the Government will have more to say on this shortly.

As I said, UK ETS prices are set by the market, as it is ultimately a market mechanism. The UK market is clearly separate from the EU market. It is therefore possible that prices will fluctuate and differ, although it is worth saying that both have similar levels of ambition. We will continue to work domestically and internationally to find solutions to any risk of carbon leakage and our ambitious climate commitments rightly require our industries to decarbonise. This includes our running a consultation earlier this year on domestic measures to mitigate carbon leakage, including a potential UK CBAM and mandatory product standards. We are looking at all these issues holistically to see which is the most appropriate carbon leakage mitigation across a number of policy designs. The response to that consultation will be published—to use the phraseology—in due course, and a further consultation on free allocation policy is due later this year.

On the point of the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, on linking the UK ETS and the EU ETS, as he correctly pointed out, under the terms of the TCA, the UK and the EU agreed to consider linking our respective carbon pricing schemes and to co-operate on carbon pricing. We are open to the possibility of discussing linking the UK ETS internationally with other schemes—it is not just the EU’s; there are a number of other schemes across the world—and we will continue to work collaboratively with other jurisdictions to tackle shared challenges and learn from the experience of others as we continue to develop the UK ETS. Indeed, I attended a meeting with a number of other jurisdictions only last week to discuss that very topic.

On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, on carbon capture and storage, there is currently an inconsistency in how capture activities and installations are dealt with in the ETS legislation, and that does not currently reflect the department’s policy. Some areas of the legislation recognise that capture and other regulated activities might occur at the same installation, but in other areas it is assumed that capture activities will be self-contained. The amendments clarify that carbon capture may take place on the same site as other UK ETS installations or regulated activities without the loss of free allocation in respect, of course, of non-capture activities. There has been no negative impact to date, as this technology is still very new and CCUS activity is not yet taking place, but the amendment will help incentivise the uptake of CCUS technology in the future and ensure that no negative impacts occur as it continues to develop.

On the electricity generator amendments and the impact of the previous baseline period, these rules were simply carried over from the existing EU ETS for consistency and we are now amending them to tailor them to the UK system. I hope I have answered all the points I was asked about and commend the order to the House.

Motion agreed.