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Under cap-and-trade, flying is greener than taking the bus

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Under so-called "cap and trade" schemes designed to reduce carbon emissions, individuals will actually be acting more green-righteously by taking the plane rather than the bus, according to new research.

Dr Grischa Perino of the University of East Anglia uses the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) - a typical cap-and-trade scheme - as an example. Under the ETS, emissions by one company can be offset by another. Firms that hold more emission allowances than they need can sell these to other firms, which in turn use them to increase their own emissions. The overall cap within which the allowances are set is lower than emissions otherwise would be, and thus total emissions are reduced.

The problem is that only industries judged to be high-carbon, such as aviation and electricity generation, are included. Road transport, for instance, is not.

"If you consider making a trip from London to Glasgow, flying has higher physical [carbon] emissions than a coach journey," explains Dr Perino.

"However, additional emissions of flights are fully offset by the EU ETS, even without buying the offsets offered by most airlines when buying tickets, while those of the coach are not and therefore are additional. Surprising as it may sound, going by coach increases total emissions more than flying.”

Similarly, while an energy saving appliance used in the home might save you money as it may pay for its greater cost through lower electricity bills, it will not reduce carbon emissions. If less electricity is used, the power generation companies will have more allowances, which they will sell to someone else - airlines, maybe, or heavy industry - who will then be able to emit more carbon.

Dr Perino points out that most organisations active in the field of carbon emissions have failed to grasp these facts and thus the advice they give to people on reducing their carbon footprint is often quite wrong.

“My analysis shows that basing decisions to reduce carbon footprints on both regulated and unregulated emissions, as recommended by government agencies, NGOs and established carbon footprint labels, can increase total emissions,” he says.

The good doctor published a discussion paper setting out his calculations this week, which can be read here.

Perino argues that this isn't merely a European issue.

“The two regional cap and trade schemes in North America, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and the Western Climate Initiative, follow the same basic design and similar results hold for them, as will be the case for the Australian scheme once it is transformed from an emissions tax into a cap and trade scheme in 2015,” he says.

The discussion paper, naturally enough, has angered some of the famously hardline green scientists to be found on the UEA campus. UEA is home to the Climate Research Unit, one of the high temples of global warming alarmism and famous as the centre of the "Climategate" affair. UEA also hosts the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, which some social scientists have suggested could become the nerve centre of an Isaac Asimov "Psychohistory" style push to manipulate voters into endorsing urgent climate action.

Prof Corinne Le Quéré, boss of the Tyndall Centre, appeared to disregard the effects of the EU ETS, stating in response to Perino's paper:

“Reducing our individual energy use, particularly that of our travel, our houses, and our appliances, is the quickest and easiest way to reduce our own carbon emissions". ®

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