A Great Argument for Carbon Taxes (and Credits)

A recent article in Knowledge @ Wharton Universia on phishing, bribery, and falsification: combating the complexities of carbon fraud provides a great argument on why cap and trade should be abandoned in favour of straight carbon taxes (and credits if the goal is to encourage corporations to be as efficient with carbon emissions as possible). According to the article, carbon trading systems, especially when coupled with lax Internet security and third party verification, pose a great opportunity for crooks who want to defraud honest companies out of millions of dollars.

The first example the article gave was of a group of rouge traders who, earlier this year, stole as much as $4 Million by posing as regulators, setting up a fake, but official-looking website, and using it to obtain carbon trading account information from companies and traders who thought they were complying with government requests. The scheme forced the German Emissions Trade Authority to suspend trading, but not before 250,000 permits had been stolen.

The second example was that of Carbon Harvesting Corp who’s director has been arrested and charged in connection in an alleged scheme to pay $2.5 Million to “rent” a fifth of Liberia’s forests and profit by selling the credits that could be obtained from the carbon absorbing trees.

All in all, Europol estimated that tax fraud associated with carbon trading reached 6.5 Billion over 18 months, and in some countries, up to 90% of trading volume resulted from fraudulent activities. A recent report on Ten Ways to Game the Carbon Market identified 10 scams common to carbon trading … and the list was not necessarily all-inclusive.

But if there’s no trading, there’s no opportunity for trading fraud. And there’s no need for trading if governments simply levy a tax on every tonne of carbon emitted. Furthermore, if the goal is to compensate companies that are being extra efficient about carbon emission, there can also be carbon credits where companies that emit below a floor can get tax credits. In fact, it only takes a simple algebraic formula to capture taxes and credits in a joint system: (tons emitted - tons allowed) * tax per ton. For example, if it’s $10 per tonne, the company has an allowance of 1,000 tons, and the company emits 2,000 tons, then the company would pay (2,000-1,000)*10 = 10,000. And if it’s $10 per tonne, the company has an allowance of 1,000 tons, and the company emits 500 tons, then the company would get a credit of (500-1,000)*10 = 5,000 on its tax return. Simple.

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