Tag Archives: emissions


Transportation is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions for many people. Individuals can choose more sustainable transportation options to help lower their carbon footprint. Walking, biking, carpooling or taking public transit when possible are excellent low-carbon alternatives to driving alone. For longer commutes when other options aren’t feasible, driving a fuel-efficient vehicle, such as a hybrid, can help reduce emissions. Maintaining proper tire pressure and driving habits like avoiding excessive idling also improves gas mileage. Some people may be able to reduce personal vehicle use, through teleworking if their job allows it, living closer to amenities or dedicating a few days a week to avoiding car trips. For those who must drive, electric vehicles are becoming more mainstream and practical for many lifestyles, providing a zero-emissions way to drive.

When it’s time for a new vehicle purchase, choosing one with the highest fuel economy or that runs on alternative fuels or electricity will lock in emissions reductions for years of use compared to continuous driving of a gas-guzzling vehicle. Additionally, individuals can support policies that encourage the development of electric vehicles and alternative fuels, as well as expand public transit and active transportation infrastructure to offer more low-carbon options. Writing to elected representatives about climate-friendly transportation priorities is one way to create policy change.

At home, energy use for heating, cooling, appliances and other household needs accounts for a large portion of residential emissions. Implementing energy efficiency measures is one of the fastest and most affordable ways for individuals to cut carbon. Simple steps include weatherizing homes by adding insulation and sealing air leaks, installing programmable thermostats andLED lighting, and utilizing smart power strips. Transitioning home appliances to the most efficient models available during replacement cycles and air drying clothes instead of running lengthy dryer cycles also shaves emissions. Individual choices about home size and location can factor into emissions too – multi-family housing and smaller homes typically have lower energy needs than larger single-family units. Living in a more compact, walkable community near amenities and work reduces transportation demands.

For homeowners, investing in renewable energy sources like solar panels can allow a transition away from fossil fuel-derived electricity over time. Renting property may limit direct investment options, but renters still have opportunities through energy efficiency actions and choices about where to live. Supporting utility or statewide clean energy policies and programs through advocacy or by opting into green energy rate structures can also help scale up renewable infrastructure that benefits all customers. At the federal, state and local level, lobbying representatives to strengthen building codes and energy standards boosts broader emissions progress.

Dietary choices represent another major lever individuals have for lowering their carbon footprint. Producing and transporting meat, especially beef, generates more greenhouse gas emissions than producing plant-based proteins like beans, lentils and vegetables. Shifting toward a diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables while moderateing or eliminating red meat if possible can significantly curb an individual’s food-related emissions. When eating meat, prioritizing chicken, fish and eggs over beef provides an easier reduction. Reducing food waste by mindful shopping also prevents emissions from uneaten food going to landfills.

In terms of consumer purchases overall, individuals have the option to favor durable, high-quality, locally-made goods that can be repaired rather than frequently replaced. This helps avoid high upfront and continual embedded emissions from manufacturing, shipping and discarding products with short lifespans. Staying up to date on sustainability product reviews enables choosing appliances, electronics and other items with efficient or recycled materials. When old items must retire, donating or recycling them diverts material waste from landfills. Minimizing consumption and single-use plastics also lightens environmental impacts. On a broader scale, civic engagement and voting for representatives prioritizing climate solutions influences policy and infrastructure support for a greener economy.

The daily and long-term choices outlined here demonstrate that individuals have powerful collective ability to shape systems and drive demand in a lower-carbon direction when acting on options available through lifestyle, advocacy and consumer power. While societal changes also depend heavily on coordinated climate policy and actions across governments and industries, individual actions can make meaningful contributions to emissions reductions when started early and sustained over lifetimes. With creative problem-solving approaches tailored for different circumstances, opportunities exist for people everywhere to participate in climate solutions through daily living. While no one action alone solves climate change, the combined efforts of conscientious individuals transitioning toward lower-impact choices represent important momentum for building a sustainable future together with broader policy support.


The European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) is a cap-and-trade system implemented in 2005 that aims to combat climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from heavy energy-using industries in the EU, including power plants. Under the EU ETS, there is a declining cap on the total amount of certain greenhouse gases that can be emitted by installations covered by the system. Within this cap, companies receive or buy emission allowances which each allow emissions of 1 tonne of carbon dioxide equivalents. Companies can buy and sell allowances as needed in annual emissions trading auctions and on the secondary market. This creates a price signal encouraging greenhouse gas reductions where they can be made most cost-effectively.

The EU ETS has played an important role in driving the deployment of renewable energy sources across Europe. The carbon price signal created by the trading of emission allowances under the EU ETS incentivizes power generators to switch away from fossil fuel-based generation towards lower-carbon alternatives such as renewable energy sources. Several studies have found that the carbon price resulting from the EU ETS has increased the deployment of renewable energy capacity in the power sector across the EU. For example, a study by the European Environment Agency found that about 45% of new renewable capacity installed between 2008-2015 could be attributed to the impact of carbon pricing under the EU ETS. This effect is due to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar having very low marginal generation costs once invested, giving them a competitive advantage over fossil fuel generation as carbon prices rise.

The increased deployment of renewable energies under the EU ETS also displaces fossil fuel generation, contributing to emission reductions in the capped sectors. A study published in Nature Climate Change found that cumulative emission reductions due to renewable energy deployment driven by the EU ETS amounted to around 20 million tonnes of CO2 between 2008-2015. This displacement effect amplifies the overall impact of the emissions trading system on emission reductions beyond a simple cap-and-trade mechanism. The incentive for renewable energy provided by the carbon price is largely dependent on the stability and predictability of the price signal. Periods of low and volatile carbon prices, such as those seen in Phase 2 and Phase 3 of the EU ETS to date, undermine this effect to some extent.

The EU ETS also indirectly supports renewable energy deployment through specific provisions within the design of the system. For example, the EU ETS electricity sector benchmark used for free allocation distribution considers a renewable energy benchmark. This favors renewable generators who face no carbon costs and thus need fewer free allowances. Also, the directive establishing the EU ETS allows Member States to use revenues from EU ETS allowance auctions to support national renewable energy and energy efficiency measures. Many countries have implemented such ‘carbon pricing measures’ like UK carbon price support and Sweden’s carbon tax, with revenues dedicated to green energy goals. Estimates suggest up to 30% of renewable support spending across EU nations between 2008-2015 was financed through carbon pricing revenues. So in several ways, the design and operation of the EU ETS provides dedicated support for scaling up renewable electricity.

The emissions trading mechanism of the EU ETS has played a significant role in driving renewable energy deployment across the European Union over the past decade. By placing a price on carbon emissions, the EU ETS incentivizes the replacement of fossil fuels with lower-carbon alternatives like various renewable energy sources. Empirical analysis has shown over 40% of new renewable capacity installed since Phase 2 can be attributed to this effect. The displacement of fossil fuel use by renewables supported by the ETS also amplifies its emission reduction impact. While a stable and high enough carbon price is critical, features within the EU ETS that support renewable energy further increase its positive impact on deployment of clean energy alternatives across Europe’s power sector.


Emissions trading systems, while an important policy tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, do face notable challenges in their design and implementation. Setting up an effective cap-and-trade program involves complex technical, economic and political considerations.

One major challenge is setting the appropriate cap or emission limit. The cap must be ambitious enough to drive meaningful reductions over time, but not so stringent that it drastically disrupts economic activity. Determining the appropriate pace and scale of future caps that balance environmental goals with socioeconomic impacts is difficult. Political pressures often result in caps that are too lax, weakening the system’s effectiveness. Uniform caps also ignore differences in industry circumstances.

Monitoring and enforcement of the cap present technical difficulties as well. Authorities must be able to accurately track covered emissions across many dispersed sources. Emission sources have incentives to under-report, while inaccurate data undermines the integrity of the system. New and less standardized sources like transport present unique measurement challenges. Third party verification is important but adds to costs and complexity.

A related challenge is allocating the limited emissions allowances in a fair, consistent and transparent manner. Free allocation to industrial stakeholders protects them from carbon costs but rewards the status quo. Auctioning allowances raises money but industry resists additional costs. Political influences in the allocation process have weakened the effectiveness and credibility of some programs. Harmonizing allocation across jurisdictions is also difficult when their circumstances differ.

Ensuring sufficient liquidity and a continual trading market for allowances is another challenge. Volatile carbon prices, driven more by short-term economic influences than long-term decarbonization signals, undermine incentives for low-carbon investments. Banking provisions and reserve allowance pools can help smooth prices but require careful design. Linked trading with other systems expands market depth but regulatory differences complicate linkage.

A lack of predictable, long-term carbon pricing signals is a significant disincentive for businesses considering billion-dollar infrastructure investments with decades-long lifespans. Frequent changes in program rules erode certainty. Corporations also face split incentives between carbon costs imposed today versus long-term competitive advantages from low-carbon strategies. Governments struggle to balance environmental ambition with stable, investment-grade policies.

Emissions trading success also depends on complementary policies that address policy lacunae, market failures or non-price barriers. Regulations, performance standards, subsidies and public research can directly enable low-carbon options not driven solely by carbon costs. An overreliance on additional policies risks undermining the market signals from carbon pricing. Coordinating a policy mix is challenging.

Distributional impacts of higher carbon costs, whether through direct energy price increases or higher consumer prices, pose difficult political-economic tradeoffs. Low-income households are disproportionately affected unless cost measures like rebates are introduced, adding to the policy complexity. More comprehensive mitigation strategies are needed to ensure a just transition.

International cooperation to link trading systems or equalize carbon footprints also presents obstacles. Sovereign nations understandably prioritize domestic interests, and differences in social priorities, economic structures and political contexts complicate harmonization. Geopolitical dynamics have led some countries to delay or abandon emissions trading proposals.

While emissions trading holds promise as a flexible, market-based tool for driving emissions reductions, the design and implementation challenges are not to be underestimated. Success requires ongoing technical refinement, and navigating inevitable political tensions and socioeconomic impacts is a long-term process. Integrated mitigation strategies and global cooperation will be crucial to overcoming these challenges and realizing emissions trading’s full potential over time.