Does Pricing Carbon Mitigate Climate Change? Firm-Level Evidence from the European Union Emissions Trading System

Jonathan Colmer, University of Virginia, Ralf Martin, Imperial College London, Mirabelle Muûls, Imperial College London, and Ulrich Wagner, University of Mannheim

In theory, market-based regulatory instruments correct market failures at least cost. However, evidence on their efficacy remains scarce. Using administrative data, we estimate that, on average, the EU ETS – the world’s first and largest market-based climate policy – induced regulated manufacturing firms to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 14-16% with no detectable contractions in economic activity. We find no evidence of outsourcing to unregulated firms or markets; instead, firms made targeted investments, reducing the emissions intensity of production. These results indicate that the EU ETS induced global emissions reductions, a necessary and sufficient condition for mitigating climate change. We show that the absence of any negative economic effects can be rationalized in a model where pricing the externality induces firms to make fixed-cost investments in energy-saving capital that reduce marginal variable costs.