• Evolución de la desigualdad en tiempo real y efectividad del estado del bienestar para amortiguar el impacto de la crisis

    España
    Spanish
    Desigualdad

    Oriol Aspachs (CaixaBank Research), Ruben Durante (ICREA-UPF, IPEG y Barcelona GSE), Alberto Graziano (CaixaBank Research), Josep Mestres (CaixaBank Research), Jose G. Montalvo (UPF, IPEG y Barcelona GSE) y Marta Reynal-Querol (ICREA-UPF, IPEG y Barcelona GSE).

    Oriol Aspachs
    Alberto Graziano
    Josep Mestres Domènech
    España
    Desigualdad
    COVID-19
    Desigualdad
    Políticas económicas contra la COVID-19
    Crisis COVID-19: perspectivas económicas
  • The Recovery Plan for Europe: a green wave for the real estate sector

    CatalanSpanish

    Europe’s economic response to the COVID-19 crisis took shape in July: the European Council approved the Recovery Plan for Europe, the so-called NGEU, via which the European Union will grant up to 750 billion euros to its member states to stimulate their economic recovery after the shock of the pandemic. This is an unprecedented agreement and it could have a considerable impact on Europe’s real estate sector since one of the EU’s main goals, to which this Recovery Plan aims to contribute significantly, is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. It is clear that renovating Europe’s buildings, which are responsible for 40% of the continent’s energy consumption, will be key to achieving this climate target.

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    How the Recovery Plan works and the climate challenge

    Between 2021 and 2026, the main component of the NGEU, the Recovery and Resilience Facility, will allocate up to 312.5 billion euros via grants and 360 billion in loans to member states, depending on their size and how severely they have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis. According to the European Commission’s own estimates, Spain and Italy may receive around 60 billion euros (4.8% and 3.7% of their GDP, respectively)1 from the Facility; France, approximately 30 billion (1.3% of GDP); Portugal, 13 billion (6.2% of GDP) and Germany around 20 billion (0.6% of GDP). To access these funds, EU countries must draw up National Recovery and Resilience Plans and specify both the investment projects they will finance with the funds and the reforms accompanying them. These projects and reforms should contribute to four general goals: i) Promote economic, social and territorial cohesion in the European Union, ii) Strengthen economic and social resilience, iii) Mitigate the social and economic impact of this crisis, and iv) Support ecological and digital transition. In addition, each recovery and resilience plan should also allocate a minimum of 37% of its expenditure to climate-related aspects.2

    • 1. The 72 billion euros that Spain expects to receive from the EU includes 12.5 billion from the REACT-EU fund.
    • 2. For more details, see the article «Everything you ever wanted to know about the European Recovery Plan but were afraid to ask», available at: https://www.caixabankresearch.com/en/economics-markets/public-sector/everything-you-ever-wanted-know-about-european-recovery-plan-were?987=
    Europe’s NGEU Recovery Fund has a large amount of funding

    and could be an important means of renovating Europe’s buildings, a sine qua non for achieving the agreed emission targets.

    Renovating Europe’s buildings: a key goal

    The European Commission has identified the renovation of Europe’s buildings as one of its priorities for the ecological transition. More than 200 million buildings, representing 85% of Europe’s total, were built before 2001 and most of them are not energy efficient. The following chart shows that in many countries, especially Spain, there is still much work to be done to improve the average energy efficiency of housing. The current renovation rate is too slow to meet the target of reducing emissions by 55% by 2030. According to the Commission, around 90 billion euros per year of European private and public investment is required to achieve the target renovation rate.

    Share of housing by efficiency rating

    Percentage of national housing by EPC efficiency rating (%)

    p 18

    In view of this situation, the European Commission recommends that renovating housing be one of the priorities of the national recovery and resilience plans. Such renovations could simultaneously help to achieve the two European goals of ecological transition and digitalisation of the economy, for instance through "smart" buildings that are more energy efficient and can even produce their own energy.

    p 19

    As a result, Germany, France and Spain have already announced a number of renovation projects which they hope to finance via European funding. In Germany, the government has stated that it would increase funding for its energy renovation programme for buildings from the initial 1.5 billion to 2.5 billion euros, and has also announced the creation of a new 2 billion euro programme to adapt municipal buildings applying climate-friendly criteria. France’s Plan de Relance includes 6.7 billion euros between 2021 and 2022 to renovate private housing, SME premises, public buildings and social housing.

    The following article looks at how Spain will use these European funds to finance a drive to renovate its buildings.

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  • NGEU: an opportunity to relaunch Spain’s real estate sector

    CatalanSpanish

    The Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan (PRTR) for the Spanish economy could be an important catalyst for the real estate sector. With the help of European funds, the government plans to recondition half a million homes between 2021 and 2023, with the aim of improving their energy efficiency and thereby helping to achieve the agreed decarbonisation targets. The General State Budget (PGE) also proposes a notable increase in the funds allocated to increase the amount of rented social housing, a policy that is crucial as rents have become even less affordable for the most vulnerable members of the population.

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    Next Generation EU: a historic opportunity for the Spanish economy

    The European Recovery Fund (Next Generation EU) represents a unique opportunity to modernise the Spanish economy and boost its growth potential. Spain will receive 72 billion euros in non-refundable transfers (grants) between 2021 and 2026, equivalent to 5.8% of its GDP in 2019.1 Although the first instalment from the European Commission is not expected until mid-2021,2 the government plans to advance funds to speed up investments and expects to spend over 26 billion euros in 2021, according to the preliminary proposal for the General State Budget. As we shall see, a significant proportion of these funds will be used to support the real estate sector’s ecological and digital transition.

    • 1. This amount could total 140 billion euros if loans are included. For more details, see «Next Generation EU: a golden opportunity for the Spanish economy», available at: https://www.caixabankresearch.com/en/economics-markets/public-sector/next-generation-eu-golden-opportunity-spanish-economy?index=
    • 2. The EU is expected to pay out the first tranche of the funds, 6.4 billion euros, in Q3 2021.
    NGEU and the Spain’s Budget for 2021: a significant amount allocated for housing policies

    In the area of housing, the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan presented by the Spanish government to channel European NGEU3 funds focuses especially on the plan to renovate housing and urban regeneration. This policy is well aligned with the goals set by the Commission as renovating Europe’s buildings is one of its key priorities.4 The PRTR emphasises the importance of improving housing quality and boosting the construction industry both sustainably (by increasing energy efficiency, promoting green infrastructure and deploying solar roofs) and digitally (through smart applications in buildings). Specifically, the PRTR plans to recondition 500,000 homes between 2021 and 2023. This is an ambitious target which, if achieved, would be very positive for the sector as well as for the environment given the current state of housing, as we will see below.

    • 3. In October, the government presented an outline of the Plan with the main proposals. The final plan must be submitted to the European Commission by 30 April 2021 and is expected to be approved by the European Council in June 2021.
    • 4. See the article «The Recovery Plan for Europe: a green wave for the real estate sector»" in this Sector Report.
    About 6% of the European NGEU funds

    will be allocated to renovating housing, tripling public investment in this area.

    According to the Ministry of Territorial Policy, 4.5 billion euros of the NGEU (6.25% of all transfers) will be allocated to renovating housing over the next few years. In 2021, as stated in the PGE, around 1.65 billion euros will be channelled from the NGEU to finance housing and development policies. If this comes about, the amount alone would represent more than three times the housing items included in the country’s budgets on average over the past five years, ranging from 460 to 510 million euros per year. Furthermore, this amount represents 73% of the total allocation in the 2021 Budget for housing policies (2,253 million euros) and 6.2% of the aforementioned 26,634 million euros of the European NGEU funds that are expected to be paid out in 2021.

    The 2021 General State Budget allocates 2,253 million euros for housing,

    of which 1,651 million euros come from the European funds and will be used to recondition housing, while 569 million euros will be invested in social housing policies.

    p 22

    The 1.65 billion euros from the NGEU funds in 2021 will be used by three programmes: one to renovate residential environments (housing and neighbourhoods), managed mainly by the autonomous regions via agreements and totalling 1.55 billion euros; another focusing on the digital and sustainable reconditioning of public buildings, worth 81 million, and another programme with a budget of 20 million to renew the country’s architectural heritage. Consequently, although European funds will not directly finance social housing programmes, they will enable funds to be released and thereby increase the budget for this area in the 2021 General State Budget: the total allocation of 2,253 million euros for housing includes 569 million euros for social housing, 20% more than in previous budgets. This allocation will be used mainly to subsidise rent for vulnerable households and for the plan to provide 20,000 homes under the social rent scheme.

    The PGE includes 500 million euros from the NGEU funds for the circular economy, which should help to improve the efficient use of resources as well as the competitiveness of various strategic sectors. However, details of whether some of this budget will be devoted specifically to the construction industry have not been disclosed.

    The state of housing in Spain: old and not very energy efficient

    The plan to renovate housing is a unique opportunity to promote the decarbonisation of the real estate sector but also to alleviate some of the problems faced by housing at present. Especially, in addition to the age of housing (50% of homes in Spain are 40 years old or more), there is also a great deal of variability regarding their characteristics and performance in terms of energy efficiency, habitability and access.

    Spain’s housing tends to be old

    and much of it was built with little attention paid to energy efficiency

    In some cases these differences are the result of the technical regulations in force at the time they were built. For example, and as the following chart shows, half of Spain’s housing was built before the first basic building regulations came into force in 1980. In other words, around 12.8 million homes were built according to standards that regulated the safety of the structure but did not consider issues related to thermal insulation or energy consumption.5 Likewise, an additional 44% of homes (some 11.4 million) were built between 1981 and 2007, before the First Technical Building Code came into force which established minimum requirements for safety, habitability and energy efficiency.6 The result is that Spanish homes are largely inefficient from an energy point of view and require a thorough renovation to meet the greenhouse gas reduction targets the country has undertaken to achieve.

    • 5. From 1960 onwards, several provincial ordinances were introduced which regulated the thermal insulation of social housing, albeit to a limited extent.
    • 6. However, as they were built after the Basic Building Regulations CT/79, these homes have a certain degree of thermal insulation (façades and roofs), which guarantees a minimum of thermal comfort. In addition, this period saw an increasing use of aluminium and double glazing in both doors and windows, also helping to improve a home’s thermal insulation.

    Segmentation of housing in Spain according to year of construction and technical regulations

    Last actualization: 23 December 2020 - 08:51

    Part of Spain’s housing also suffers from various problems related to its habitability and quality. One of these problems is the small size of some housing. Specifically, 13% of homes in Spain are less than 60 m2 in size, while 46% are between 61 m2 and 90 m2. Renovation aimed at improving the use of space (such as enclosing terraces) can be of great help in increasing the net surface area of such homes.

    Another problem that affects some housing is its poor state of conservation. Specifically, nearly 1.8 million homes in Spain (7% of the total) are in a state of repair that can be classed as dilapidated, bad or deficient,7 placing Spain slightly below the EU average in relative terms: 15% of Spain’s population lives in a property with conservation problems compared with 13% in the EU.8

    Architectural barriers and poor means of access, which affects 13.2% of the residential stock, are other major shortcomings of housing in Spain. About 3.4 million homes are in buildings of four storeys or more without a lift.

    • 7. Data from the last housing census (2011).
    • 8. Eurostat data.
    Energy consumption in the residential sector: we’re not so bad

    Partly due to the climate, the energy demand of Spain’s residential sector is lower than that of the EU, both in absolute9 and relative terms.10 This lower energy consumption necessarily results in a lower savings potential than in other European countries. This is an important aspect, since one of the arguments in favour of energy reconditioning is that future energy savings (especially in HVAC) can be higher than the cost of the investment/work carried out.11

    If we look at how the energy consumed by Spanish households is used, most is for heating (see the chart below). However, Spain’s share of energy consumption is much lower than that of the EU: 42% in Spain compared with 64% in the EU.12

    Lighting and household appliances also account for a large part of the energy consumed by households, but in this case the proportion of energy consumed is higher than in the EU: 14% in the EU compared with 32% in Spain. This is important, since households have more and more equipment and appliances, so these need to be increasingly energy efficient to avoid a parallel increase in electricity consumption.

    • 9. The average annual consumption per household in Spain is 9,224.1 KWh per dwelling, while the average consumption in the EU is 16,526 KWh per dwelling. A similar conclusion is reached when we compare the energy consumption in residential buildings per m2.
    • 10. The residential sector accounts for approximately 17% of energy consumption in Spain compared with 26% in the EU, according to data from IDAE-MITECO (2018).
    • 11. Another aspect that may make it difficult to capitalise on energy savings within a reasonable period of time is the energy tariff structure, which in Spain consists of a high proportion of fixed costs related to the power under contract and taxes.
    • 12. The unit consumption per m2 for heating is also much lower than in the EU.

    Final energy consumption of the Spanish residential sector broken down by use (2018)

    Last actualization: 23 December 2020 - 08:53
    The reconditioning of housing gets a boost from European funds

    As already mentioned, the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan for the Spanish economy proposes to recondition 500,000 homes between 2021 and 2023. This provides a significant boost for the goals set out in the National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC 2021-2030),13 which includes the renovation of the thermal envelope (façades and roofs) of 1,200,000 homes by 2030, starting with 30,000 homes per year in 2021 and ending with 300,000 homes per year in 2030.14

    • 13. The National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC 2021-2030) is a strategic document drawn up by the government (at the request of the EU) which sets out the strategy for decarbonising the Spanish economy.
    • 14. The PNIEC also proposes the renovation of heating and hot water installations in an average of 300,000 homes per year.
    European funds will support the renovation of Spanish housing

    but there are certain limitations that may hinder the rate proposed.

    The European funds should therefore considerably help to speed up the rate at which Spanish housing is renovated. However, there are certain aspects that could hinder the plan’s complete implementation. Firstly, the ambition of the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan contrasts with the current rate of housing renovation (close to 25,000 homes per year); in fact, achieving the target of 500,000 homes in three years entails multiplying the current rate of renovation by six by 2023.

    Secondly, the investment to improve the energy efficiency of housing ranges from 5,000 to 10,000 euros for the building’s envelope and from 12,000 to 40,000 euros for complete projects,15 a high cost for many households. It will be crucial for renovation support to also reach the hardest hit and most vulnerable households, as well as zones with the greatest needs in terms of reconditioning.

    Thirdly, in general the population is relatively unwilling to carry out building work. According to the Housing Barometer (CIS, 2018), 87% of those surveyed did not plan to carry out any improvements or reforms to their homes in the following year (most because they did not think their homes needed them). Moreover, among those who did plan to carry out work, decorative reforms (such as in the kitchen or bathroom) were clearly prioritised over those related to energy efficiency (such as replacing doors and windows).

    We should also note the predominant type of housing in Spain, mostly multi-family buildings of three or more storeys, these accounting for 67% of the total housing. It tends to be more difficult to make decisions in communities of several owners and this can present an additional barrier to some of the work required being carried out.

    And, finally, the extent of public concern or awareness regarding energy efficiency is relatively lower than other housing-related issues. According to the latest housing barometer (CIS, 2018), concern about thermal comfort (35%) is similar to other concerns such as noise and security against burglary, and lower than other issues such as the lack
    of a lift in some buildings.

    • 15. Includes changing HVAC and hot water installations. Estimates from the «Estrategia a largo plazo para la rehabilitación energética en el sector de la edificación en España», Ministry of Economy (2020).

    Percentage of households that are little or not at all satisfied with the following aspects of the building in which their home is located

    Last actualization: 23 December 2020 - 08:54

    In short, the reconditioning of housing is key to reducing energy consumption and thereby greenhouse gas emissions. However, in order to encourage such building works, it is also important to convince people that renovating their dwelling is a great opportunity to improve the comfort and interior habitability of their homes (an issue that lockdown has made even more evident), as well as to increase the property’s value. It is therefore essential to direct the available public resources appropriately in order to address the main problems of Spain’s housing together with its citizens.

    p 27
    Social housing for rent: the big task ahead

    In addition to renovation, another priority for housing policy over the coming years is to increase the amount of public housing aimed at social or affordable rents. Spain is one of the European countries with the highest percentage of tenants who spend more than 40% of their income on rent, a sign of the extra effort many households have to make to meet their housing costs. This extra effort is also disproportionately high for low-income households and young people. Moreover, the coronavirus crisis has aggravated the existing problems of affordable rented accommodation, especially among the most vulnerable people, as pointed out by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its latest report on the Spanish economy.16 The IMF recommends increasing the number of homes allocated for social rented accommodation as Spain has one of the lowest figures in Europe: social housing accounts for 2.5% of the total number of primary residences in Spain compared with a European average of 9.3%, according to Eurostat data. To reach the European average, 1.2 million additional social housing units would be needed, a figure that would be difficult to achieve without public-private partnerships.

    • 16. IMF Country Report no. 20/299. Spain. Selected Issues. Available at https://www.imf.org/-/media/Files/Publications/CR/2020/English/ 1ESPEA2020002.ashx
    In the past 4 decades, almost 2.4 million social dwellings have been built in Spain,

    most of them intended for ownership, not rent. As a result, there is very little rented social housing, approximately 290,000 homes.

    This lack of rented social housing is the result of housing policies that have historically been aimed at developing social housing via ownership. Between 1981 and 2019, almost 11 million homes were completed in Spain, 21.6% of which were social housing. During this same period, households grew by just under 8 million, so we can conclude that social housing has covered the accommodation needs of approximately 30% of Spanish households in the past four decades, a highly significant figure. However, most of the social housing built in Spain has been destined for ownership (see the chart below). Consequently, after a few years these properties have now acquired the status of free housing on the market, thereby losing their original social purpose.

    The development of social housing for rent has been very limited in Spain

    Last actualization: 23 December 2020 - 11:36

    Very little social housing has been developed since 2010, affecting rented accommodation to a greater extent. In fact, between 2013 and 2016 the development of this kind of property has been almost zero (368 homes per year on average), increasing the prevalence of social housing under ownership. However, since 2017 rental accommodation seems to have regained some of its relative weight. Specifically, 12,496 social homes were built in Spain in 2019, of which 2,585 (20.7%) were for rent. Nevertheless, these figures are clearly not enough to significantly increase the stock of rented social housing.

    According to recent estimates by the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda,17 Spain’s stock of publicly-owned social housing for rent totals about 290,000 homes. Of these, around 180,000 are owned by the autonomous region and 110,000 by the local council. These 290,000 rented social homes cover 1.6% of the 18.6 million households in Spain (data from the «Cuestionario sobre vivienda social», 2019).

    • 17. «Boletín especial vivienda social», 2020, Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda.
    Final points

    The European funds represent a historic opportunity to recondition Spain’s old, poorly energy-efficient housing, renovations that will also contribute, simultaneously, to the two European goals of ecological transition and digitalisation of the economy, for instance through more energy-efficient «smart» buildings. Similarly, the strong economic and social impact of the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the need to create a large amount of public housing available for rent in order to resolve the current shortage and be able to provide a housing solution for the most vulnerable in society. These policies should drive a green, social and digital recovery.

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The geopolitics of climate change in the post-pandemic scenario

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A 360 panorama stitched and warped to create the tiny planet effect. Image sequence taken by drone above a community field in Wales.

The pandemic of 2020 could become a major turning point of this century. This is a century marked by radical change and transformation, as demonstrated by such phenomena as the 2008 financial crisis, the emergence of the digital economy, the consolidation of China as one of the new pillars of the global economy, and... the acceleration of climate change with the resulting heightened environmental awareness.

Furthermore, the decade that is now beginning will probably also mark a turning point in geopolitics and international trade. The escalation of trade tensions between China and the US is reshaping the battlefield. As such, all the indicators suggest that over the coming years the epicentre of the discussion will not be on trade deficits, but rather will shift towards issues such as the intensity of greenhouse gas emissions and technological decoupling. Since the onset of the health crisis generated by the pandemic, the need for shorter and more resilient global value chains has already been raised. In this regard, governments could legislate to promote the local production of certain goods and services that are considered essential, such as essential healthcare equipment. The pandemic could thus reinforce protectionism at the global level, creating the political and social consensuses needed for the creation of more self-sufficient energy networks, industries and distribution chains. The EU has already given this movement a name: strategic autonomy. This change in trade relations will coincide with one of the great challenges of our time: climate change. As we will see in this article, the fight against climate change and the goal of reaching 2050 with zero net greenhouse gas emissions could serve as an important impetus to rewrite the rules of international trade and geopolitics.

Global carbon dioxide emissions: main emitters
Green international trade: ambitious targets but time for a transition

How can an international trading system be designed to be efficient, fair and to help achieve the targets outlined in the Paris Agreement? On the side of the major pollutants, there are hopeful signs: according to a report by the Global Energy Monitor (GEM), the installed capacity for coal-fired power production fell in the first half of 2020 for the first time in history. China, the country responsible for the highest share of emissions, has set itself the goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2060 and tripling its installed wind and solar power capacity over the next decade. Among the world’s largest producers of oil and natural gas, meanwhile, the vast majority have announced plans this year to significantly reduce their emissions over the coming decades. Finally, US President-elect Joe Biden has reaffirmed his commitment to the Paris Agreement, his desire for the US to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 and his intention to implement a two-trillion-dollar investment plan over the next few years, with a strong focus on clean energies and sectors that are key to the green transition.

Even so, we are still in a transitional phase, and international cooperation mechanisms have been greatly weakened in recent years, which is expected to make it even harder for the good intentions announced to date to be turned into tangible and effective policies. In this context, effort must be put into devising instruments that help align each country’s incentives with the global emission reduction targets, prevent environmental free-riding and establish good practices. One of these policies is cross-border emission taxes. Let’s see what it is all about.

Carbon border taxes: the tariffs of the 21st century?

The course set by the EU and other major emitters for the coming decades in the field of emission reductions will lead to a significant rise in the levies on those emissions.1 This could contribute to the relocation of the most polluting industries from «green» countries or regions to «brown» destinations, where they can gain a competitive advantage thanks to the lower price of emissions and export to other destinations from there. This phenomenon is known as carbon leakage. This has sparked a debate on how to avoid such leakage, with proposals such as a European mechanism for adjusting emissions at the border. This would essentially amount to a cross-border tax that is charged on the emission content of imports of goods and services, in a manner similar to the emission taxes to be imposed at the European level.2

Although its final design may vary, the plans outlined in the context of the European Green Deal seem to favour a cross-border adjustment mechanism targeted at specific sectors, with the aim of responding to two of the main challenges of its implementation: its administrative complexity and its legality within the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO).3 However, the fact that this plan only focuses on certain sectors could generate a significant substitution effect. This could result in an increase in imports of those sectors that are not taxed by this adjustment mechanism (especially products that are not subject to it) but which incorporate raw materials from sectors that are subject to the tax (an example of this problem in another context unrelated to climate change has occurred in the US, where very high tariffs have been imposed on metal, but nail imports were not taxed). Thus, a mechanism limited to certain sectors, despite its symbolic value, is likely to end up with limited effectiveness. Hence the importance of ensuring that this mechanism can be applied across most sectors and that the carbon footprint of all products and their components can be traced.

The implementation of such a mechanism is not only technically difficult, but also complex to implement at the political level. On the one hand, the countries hardest hit by this tax will tend to be emerging ones, as they generally have a lower capacity to produce clean energy. Therefore, there will be a debate over whether the revenues from this mechanism should be dedicated to strictly European projects (in which case it could be perceived as a protectionist tool) or to providing aid to the countries from which the taxed products originate in order to help them produce those products in a cleaner manner. On the other hand, this mechanism could lead to a domino effect of environmental protectionism if the countries subject to these taxes decide to retaliate.4

In the face of these problems, the European authorities will have to tread very carefully in order to develop an emission adjustment mechanism that is effective but avoids provoking major geopolitical tensions. Only in that case will such a mechanism succeed in setting an example for the world’s other economies to accelerate the implementation of good environmental practices everywhere.

  • 1. Mechanisms will be introduced making greenhouse gas emissions more expensive. There are two mechanisms for increasing the cost of greenhouse gas emissions: an emissions market (the regulator sets a maximum limit on the total amount of tonnes of CO2 that can be emitted per year and region and, within the limit set, companies receive or purchase emission rights which they can then trade between one another) and an emissions tax (the regulator sets a price on greenhouse gas emissions that gradually increases).
  • 2. See, for instance, M. Mehling et al. (2018). «Beat protectionism and emissions at a stroke». Nature, 559, 321-324.
  • 3. It is easier to restrict this mechanism to the most polluting sectors than to extend it to all products, since all contributions at all stages of the production chain would have to be calculated. Furthermore, this mechanism is only envisaged for imports of products subject to environmental taxation at the domestic level. Today, for example, only 40% of EU emissions fall under the EU emission allowance scheme. See, for instance, D. Gros and C. Egenhofer (2010). «Climate change and trade: taxing carbon at the border?» and G. Zachmann and B. McWilliams (2020). «A European carbon border tax: much pain, little gain». Bruegel Policy Contribution Issue nº 5.
  • 4. The only border adjustment mechanism in force is currently applied in the California energy market, covering 85% of all polluting emissions, and illustrates the importance of the mechanism’s design in order to minimise trade deviations (OECD. 2020. «Climate Challenge and Trade: Would border carbon adjustments accelerate or hinder climate action?»).
Green international trade: there are alternatives but no panaceas

What are the alternatives to the border adjustment mechanism? One possibility is international coordination for the introduction of emission caps allocated by industry or country, and taxes on excess emissions similar to the EU’s emission trading system. These international coordination tools are expected to gain traction on both sides of the Atlantic, following the election of President-elect Joe Biden, as a way to apply pressure on other countries (particularly China and India) to bolster their efforts in the energy transition. A complementary alternative, which would require a greater degree of international cooperation than that shown to date, would be the creation of «climate clubs»,5 that is, trade agreements among countries that have agreed on a certain international price on their emissions. These clubs would have two essential characteristics: on the one hand, their members would commit to setting the agreed common price on their emissions rather than negotiating national emission reductions. On the other hand, countries that decide not to participate in such clubs would be penalised, for instance through cross-border quotas, tariffs and adjustment mechanisms. These «climate clubs» could thus constitute a multilateral forum that could prove very useful for aligning the emission reduction incentive structures of the Paris Agreement’s signatory countries. Moreover, the costs of not being part of the club would increase with their size, as countries that choose not to participate would lose the opportunity to gain unhindered access to the markets of the club’s members.

In this context, and in a particularly volatile geopolitical environment, the importance of reaffirming and strengthening the leadership of supranational institutions is particularly significant, as it would enable ambitious and lasting policies to be adopted. Currently, shorter-term policies – such as border adjustment mechanisms – are being proposed to fill the gap left by the weakening of international cooperation in recent years. However, looking ahead to the future, new steps will have to be taken. In the case of the WTO, the main sentinel of international trade, trade disputes are likely to be rekindled over the coming years as a result of the rise in protectionism, the rethinking of global supply chains, disparate environmental targets and latent geopolitical tensions. If the negotiations for a post-Brexit trade agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU have proven to be thorny, designing new international trade mechanisms to promote environmental protection will be no less so. Commitment to the environment from all parties, in a spirit of global cooperation, will be key.

  • 5. See W. Nordhaus (2019). «Climate Change: The Ultimate Challenge for Economics». American Economic Review, 109(6), 1991-2014.