Download publication

Policy Contribution

A European carbon border tax: much pain, little gain

The European Commission should not make the implementation of a carbon border adjustment mechanism into a must-have element of its climate policy. There is little in the way of strong empirical evidence that would justify a carbon-adjustment measure. Moreover, significant logistical, legal and political challenges will arise during the design. The EU should instead focus upon the implementation of measures to trigger the development of a competitive low-carbon industry in Europe.

By: and Date: March 5, 2020 Topic: Energy & Climate

The European Green Deal has set a target of reducing European Union carbon emissions by about 40 per cent over the next ten years. Reaching this target is likely to involve a significant increase in carbon prices. Theoretically, higher carbon prices can lead to carbon leakage, or the relocation of industrial activity and its accompanying emissions out of economies with high carbon prices and into economies with low carbon prices. To address this perceived threat, the European Commission will consider the inclusion of a carbon border adjustment mechanism within the European Green Deal. This will apply a charge on goods imported into the EU, based on the emissions emitted during their production.

The European Commission should not make the implementation of a carbon border adjustment mechanism into a must-have element of its climate policy. There is little in the way of strong empirical evidence that would justify a carbon-adjustment measure. Assessments of current carbon pricing schemes typically find no leakage, while ex-ante modelling tends to find limited leakage, with results highly sensitive to underlying assumptions. Energy price differentials – a proxy for carbon prices – do not necessarily result in a relocation of energy-intensive production.

Furthermore, significant logistical, legal and political challenges will arise during the design of a carbon border mechanism. Choices would have to be made between more efficient but highly complex and politically risky approaches, and mainly symbolic but more easily implementable solutions.

To simplify the design of a carbon border mechanism whilst maximising its benefits, the Commission has proposed focusing only on carbon-intensive and trade-exposed sectors. But it will be difficult to draw a strict line between covered and non-covered sectors. Trade deviation will potentially lead to lobbying and the temptation for ‘cascading protectionism,’ with tariffs extended to industries further along value chains.
A strategy of tying future climate policy to the implementation of a border adjustment mechanism might, therefore, hinder rather than help EU climate policy. The EU should instead focus upon the implementation of measures to trigger the development of a competitive low-carbon industry in Europe.

Recommended citation
Zachmann, G. and B. McWilliams (2020) ‘A European carbon border tax: much pain, little gain’, Policy Contribution 05/2020, Bruegel

Read article More on this topic
 

Blog Post

China has a grand carbon neutrality target but where is the plan?

China’s new long-term targets, to reach peak emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, are yet to be matched with a consistent short-term action plan.

By: Alicia García-Herrero and Simone Tagliapietra Topic: Energy & Climate Date: April 14, 2021
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Opinion

More Europe or less Europe?

Europe is often a ship with multiple captains. The boat moves forward in calm seas, but when the slightest wind puts it off course, it is not easy to steer that boat. It is not so much a question of more Europe rather than less, but of achieving ‘one Europe’. A ‘more-or-less Europe’ is an invitation to go nowhere.

By: Maria Demertzis Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: April 14, 2021
Read about event More on this topic
 

Upcoming Event

Apr
28
15:00

China and the WTO: (How) can they live together?

What changes can be made to make China and the WTO more compatible with each other?

Speakers: Maria Demertzis, Anne Krueger, Pascal Lamy, Justin Yifu Lin, Petros C. Mavroidis and André Sapir Topic: Global Economics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Opinion

It’s time for a green social contract

The green transformation will have far-reaching socio-economic implications. Action is needed to ensure domestic and international social equity and fairness.

By: Simone Tagliapietra Topic: Energy & Climate Date: April 12, 2021
Read about event
 

Upcoming Event

Apr
29
14:00

The External Dimension of the EU's Green Deal: What Role for EU Development Cooperation?

The EU Green Deal's political scope extends far beyond climate neutrality and the European Union. What geopolitical and human repercussions does it have for its partners?

Speakers: Francisco André, Mikaela Gavas, Njuguna Ndung'u and Simone Tagliapietra Topic: Energy & Climate, Global Economics & Governance
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Blog Post

How to extend carbon pricing beyond the comfort zone

Rapid emission cuts need a carbon price for the whole economy. This must be introduced in careful stages. 

By: Georg Zachmann Topic: Energy & Climate Date: April 1, 2021
Read article Download PDF More on this topic
 

Policy Contribution

Navigating through hydrogen

Policymakers must address the need to displace carbon-intensive hydrogen with low-carbon hydrogen, and incentivise the uptake of hydrogen as a means to decarbonise sectors with hard-to-reduce emissions.

By: Ben McWilliams and Georg Zachmann Topic: Energy & Climate Date: April 1, 2021
Read article More on this topic
 

External Publication

Form a climate club: United States, European Union and China

If the three biggest economies agree a carbon tax on imports, it will catalyse climate action globally.

By: Guntram B. Wolff and Simone Tagliapietra Topic: Energy & Climate Date: March 23, 2021
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Opinion

Central banks don’t have to pick winners and losers to fight climate change

Disclosures and financial regulation don’t get enough respect as tools to reduce emissions.

By: Rebecca Christie Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: March 11, 2021
Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

A new carbon pricing paradigm for the path to net zero

Which role carbon pricing could and should play in the future policy mix?

Speakers: Ottmar Edenhofer, Peter Liese, Sam Van den Plas, Beatriz Yordi Aguirre and Georg Zachmann Topic: Energy & Climate Date: March 9, 2021
Read article Download PDF More on this topic
 

Policy Contribution

A whole-economy carbon price for Europe and how to get there

Putting carbon pricing at the centre of the EU climate policy architecture would provide major benefits. Obtaining these benefits requires a uniform, credible and durable carbon price – the economic first-best solution, however, several preconditions required to attain this solution are not yet met. This paper proposes a sequenced approach to ensure convergence of the policy mix on the first-best in the long run.

By: Ottmar Edenhofer, Mirjam Kosch, Michael Pahle and Georg Zachmann Topic: Energy & Climate Date: March 9, 2021
Read article
 

Opinion

The EU can’t separate climate policy from foreign policy

How to make the European Green Deal succeed.

By: Mark Leonard, Jean Pisani-Ferry, Jeremy Shapiro, Simone Tagliapietra and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Energy & Climate, Global Economics & Governance Date: March 5, 2021
Load more posts