Regulatory Carbon Market
April 11, 2023

Regulatory Carbon Market

This blog post provides a comprehensive overview of the regulatory carbon market, including its concept, players, challenges, and environmental benefits.

What is a regulatory carbon market?

A regulatory carbon market is a market governed by legislation that aims to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through the trade of carbon credits or allowances. In this market, the right to emit a specific amount of GHGs is represented by a certain number of carbon credits, which must be held by enterprises or other organisations that emit GHGs. If a company emits fewer GHGs than the number of credits they have, it can sell its surplus credits to other companies that need more to meet its emissions targets. In contrast, if a corporation generates more GHGs than the number of credits it has, it will need to purchase more credits to make up for the extra emissions. The goal is to give businesses a financial incentive to cut back on emissions since they may earn money from selling any additional credits they don't use and to penalise those who exceed their allowance because they have to buy more credits.

The regulatory carbon market forms a component of a larger framework of climate policies and programmes designed to cut GHG emissions, such as mandates for renewable energy, energy efficiency standards, or carbon emission taxes. Since companies can select how to cut their emissions and trade credits among themselves to satisfy their targets, it is viewed as a flexible and economical means to achieve carbon reductions. The rigour of emissions targets, the structure of the trading system, and the precision of GHG monitoring and verification all play a role in the market's effectiveness.

Entities that generate GHGs must possess a certain amount of credits to participate in the market; these credits can be acquired through a combination of allocation, auctioning, and purchases. While allocation refers to the free distribution of credits to businesses based on various parameters such as historical emissions, industrial competitiveness, or energy efficiency, auctioning sells credits to the highest bidder. When an entity exceeds its allotted allowance or does not have enough credits to cover its emissions, the purchase of credits is permitted.

How do regulatory carbon markets work?

regulatory carbon markets operate by placing a cap or limit on the total quantity of GHG emissions regulated/mandated companies and industries are allowed to release during a specific period.. The cap is then divided into a certain number of carbon credits, or emissions allowances, with each credit denoting a specific amount of GHG emissions, e.g. 1 Credit = 1 Tonne CO2. 

Through an exchange, these credits can be transferred between covered entities, enabling corporations that emit less than their allotted allowance to sell their extra credits to those that emit more than their allowance.

What are some examples of successful regulatory carbon markets?

The  New Zealand Emissions Trading System (NZ ETS),launched in 2008, is the primary carbon market in New Zealand. The NZ ETS caps GHG emissions from specific industries, such as energy, industry, transport, and waste, allowing businesses to purchase and sell emissions units to meet their commitments. The aim is to cap emissions and encourage emission reductions by gradually reducing the amount of emissions units made available over time. The programme also incorporates offset clauses that enable businesses to earn emissions units by funding programmes that reduce emissions.

What is the difference between regulatory and voluntary carbon markets?

A regulatory carbon market is a mandatory system for reducing GHG emissions that are established and enforced by governments. In contrast, a voluntary carbon market is a market-based mechanism that allows individuals or organisations to voluntarily acquire carbon offsets or credits to minimise their carbon footprint.

In a voluntary carbon market, people or organisations can acquire carbon credits from projects that reduce GHG emissions or sequester carbon, such as renewable energy projects, reforestation or afforestation projects, or energy efficiency programmes. Outside agencies often evaluate and certify these credits to guarantee their integrity and legitimacy.

Unlike a regulatory carbon market, voluntary participation is optional and not subject to government-mandated emission reduction targets. Instead, people and organisations voluntarily buy credits to reduce their carbon footprints, encourage advancing sustainable practices, or both.

Carbon markets that are regulated and voluntary both seek to encourage GHG emission reductions and promote carbon trading, but they differ in size, scope, and regulatory control. Voluntary carbon markets typically are smaller and more niche, with a stronger emphasis on individual responsibility and voluntary action. Carbon market regulations generally are more extensive and comprehensive, with stricter emissions targets and government control.

Who participates in regulatory carbon markets?

Regulated carbon markets are designed to cover organisations that produce considerable amounts of GHG emissions, including industrial facilities, power plants, or fleets of vehicles. The precise list of entities covered by each regulatory market may change depending on the jurisdiction and market sector coverage.

Regulated entities and market participants are the two general categories participating in regulatory carbon markets. Regulated entities are those whose emissions are subject to caps and must maintain a certain quantity of carbon credits to offset such emissions. Manufacturing, transportation, and power generation companies can be among these entities.

On the other hand, market participants are organisations that do not have a direct emissions duty but can nonetheless engage in the market activity by purchasing or selling carbon credits. Financial institutions, brokers, and traders who specialise in carbon markets and assist in the buying and selling of credits are examples of market participants.

In addition, regulatory carbon markets can also involve various government agencies, regulatory bodies, and oversight organisations responsible for setting emissions targets, allocating or auctioning credits, monitoring emissions, and enforcing compliance with the market rules.

How are carbon credits created in a regulatory carbon market?

Currently, the ETS issues Free Allocation credits. If the entities exceed this number, they must buy the units. The free allocation credits get less and less each year to encourage change. One tonne of CO2 equivalent has been avoided or removed from the atmosphere for each credit. The entity can subsequently utilise these credits to comply with rules or sell to other entities that need to offset their emissions.

In a regulated carbon market, the following processes are typically taken to create carbon credits:

  1. Baseline determination: For each regulated entity, a baseline level of emissions is established, representing the level of emissions that would have happened without any emissions reduction measures.
  2. Emissions reduction: Policies are implemented to reduce emissions below the benchmark. This may entail several actions, including increasing energy efficiency, moving to renewable energy sources, or putting carbon capture and storage systems into place.
  3. Verification: The measures to reduce emissions are assessed by a third-party verifier to ensure they are accurate and provide reductions more significant than those that would have occurred without the project.
  4. Certification: Following verification of the emissions reductions, the project is certified by a specified regulatory agency, and carbon credits are given to the entity following the volume of emissions cut.

What types of projects are eligible for carbon credits in regulatory and voluntary carbon markets?

Depending on the particular rules and regulations of the market, several types of projects may be eligible for carbon credits in regulated carbon markets. Generally speaking, projects that provide demonstrable emissions reductions or GHG removals are qualified. These are a few illustrations of acceptable project types:

Renewable energy projects: Carbon credits may be available for projects that produce renewable energy, such as wind, solar, or hydroelectric power. These initiatives replace energy sources based on fossil fuels, lowering GHG emissions.

Energy-efficient projects: building upgrades and energy-efficient lighting systems are examples of projects that can qualify for carbon credits. These initiatives reduce energy use, which lowers GHG emissions.

Forestry initiatives: Initiatives that result in the replanting, afforestation, or preservation of forests may be eligible for carbon credits. The reduction of GHG emissions from the atmosphere may occur from these programmes since trees absorb CO2 from the atmosphere.

Methane capturing projects: Projects involving capturing and using methane emissions from waste-handling facilities like landfills or wastewater treatment facilities may be eligible for carbon credits. As a potent GHG, methane can be captured and used to reduce emissions significantly.

Transportation-related projects: Carbon credits may be available for initiatives to reduce emissions from transportation, such as using electric vehicles, public transit, or alternative fuels. These initiatives lessen transportation-related emissions, a substantial source of GHG emissions.

How are carbon credits bought and sold in a regulatory carbon market?

Direct transactions: To buy and sell carbon credits, parties may engage in direct transactions. This may entail the buyer and seller haggling about a price and the number of credits needed to complete the deal before signing a contract.

Exchanges: Exchanges have been set up by some regulated carbon markets where carbon credits can be purchased and traded. These exchanges operate as a platform for buyers and sellers of carbon credits to come together. The spot price of carbon credits can be decided using market-based processes like auctions or trading platforms.

Brokers: Brokers bring parties together and facilitate transactions. Brokers can provide market access to buyers and sellers that would be hard to achieve elsewhere.

Carbon funds: Investors can purchase shares in the managed funds that invest in carbon credits, the fund will utilise the money to buy carbon credits on the investors' behalf creating exposure to the carbon markets without dealing with the difficulties of purchasing and selling individual carbon credits.

It's vital to remember that the cost of carbon credits might change depending on the supply and demand of the market, the calibre and characteristics of the credits being traded, and many other factors. Certain carbon credits may be worth more than others depending on elements, including the project's type, location, and verification and certification procedures. To assure the quality and legality of the credits they exchange, buyers and sellers must conduct their own due diligence.

What is the role of government in regulatory carbon markets?

Governments have a critical role in developing the norms and standards governing the market, as well as observing and enforcing the adherence to those standards. These are a few practical ways that governments can take part in carbon market regulation:

  • Governments have the authority to define the legal and regulatory framework for the carbon market, emissions targets, rules for creating and exchanging credits, and specifications for monitoring and verification.
  • Governments can grant participants in the carbon market allowances and credits. Governments have the authority to oversee and enforce adherence to the rules and regulations governing the carbon market. Audits, inspections, and fines for noncompliance may be part of this.
  • Grants and subsidies are two examples of how governments might financially help projects using the carbon market. This may assist the growth of low-carbon initiatives and serve as an incentive to produce carbon credits.
  • Governments can participate in the carbon credit market as buyers to offset their own emissions and reach their emission reduction goals.

What are the benefits of participating in a regulatory carbon market?

Achieving emissions reduction targets: Fulfilling emissions reduction targets is one of the main advantages of participating in a regulated carbon market. Making a profit: Companies that produce or possess carbon credits may make money by buying and selling the credits at market rates. These funds may be put back into low-carbon projects or allocated to other sustainability programmes.

Innovation: Participation in a legally mandated carbon market might drive innovation in low-carbon products and procedures. To reduce the number of units participants have to buy, which can aid in reducing emissions and promoting sustainable development, businesses may be encouraged to create innovative technology or adopt novel techniques.

Reputation building: Businesses participating in a regulated carbon market can show their dedication to sustainability and minimise environmental impact. This can help them establish a solid reputation and raise the value of their brand.

Reaching new markets: Certain regulated carbon markets are connected to global carbon markets, which can give businesses access to new markets and opportunities. Companies can increase their worldwide reach and gain access to new clients and investors by participating in these markets.

What challenges do regulatory carbon markets face?

Political obstacles: Getting political backing for the market is one of the main obstacles. Politicians who may be reluctant to accept a new regulatory scheme and sectors that would be directly impacted by emissions limitations frequently oppose regulated carbon markets. Developing nations may also object because they believe carbon markets allow wealthier countries to avoid domestic emission reductions.

Technological difficulties: Limiting emissions, tracking emissions, and verifying compliance with market regulations can be complicated technically and cost a lot of money to acquire and analyse the necessary data. Another technical problem is verifying and certifying emissions reductions from the purchased and sold credits.

Economic challenges: It can be challenging for businesses to plan and make long-term investments because carbon prices might fluctuate based on supply and demand. Furthermore, raising the cost of regulation for companies and endangering economic growth are two consequences of making the price of carbon too high.

Equity issues: If emissions limitations are set differently for different industries or areas, carbon markets may result in an unequal distribution of costs and benefits. This can exacerbate social and economic inequality, resulting in winners and losers within and between nations.

Fraud and market manipulation: If sufficient regulatory oversight and enforcement procedures are not in place, carbon markets may be subject to fraud and market manipulation. These problems may erode the market's credibility and reduce the effectiveness of emissions reductions.

How are carbon prices determined in a regulatory carbon market?

Supply and demand dynamics, regulatory practices, and market circumstances all have a role in determining carbon pricing in a regulatory carbon market. Some of the significant variables that can affect carbon pricing in a regulated carbon market include the following:

Emissions reduction targets: By altering the market, emissions reduction targets can impact carbon prices. The demand for carbon credits might rise, raising prices if emissions reduction objectives were set at higher levels.

Market supply: The number of carbon credits available may also impact prices. If more carbon credits are available, costs/tax/ price of carbon credits may stay the same due to an oversupply. On the other side, prices may increase if there is a shortage of carbon credits because of increased demand.

Regulations: The development and implementation of rules may affect the cost of carbon. Higher carbon prices may emerge from a reduced supply of available credits due to policies that, for example, restrict the use of offset credits or the volume and availability of permits.

Market variables: The state of the global economy and geopolitical happenings are additional factors that may impact carbon prices. For example, a global economic slowdown may result in less demand for carbon credits, resulting in lower prices, therefore, costs to participants.

Voluntary demand: Prices in a regulated carbon market may be impacted by the voluntary demand for carbon credits. Carbon credits may increase in demand and cost more if businesses or individuals voluntarily buy them to offset emissions.


To sum up, regulated and voluntary carbon markets are a crucial weapon in the war against global warming. Regulatory carbon markets offer a market-based strategy to encourage emissions reductions by capping GHG emissions and enabling businesses to buy and sell emissions units. They can be used in conjunction with other policies, including laws, incentives, and subsidies, to stimulate emissions reductions and further the shift to a low-carbon economy.

Participation in a regulated carbon market can be advantageous for several reasons, including allowing businesses to adhere to emissions rules and encouraging the development of low-carbon technologies. Also, regulated carbon markets make it more straightforward for nations and businesses to reach their emissions reduction targets.

Carbon markets can effectively encourage emissions reductions and assist sustainable development, as seen by examples of successful regulatory carbon markets like the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme. Regulated carbon markets, however, an essential tool in the larger scheme of climate policy, must be used along side other measures if the problem of climate change is to be adequately addressed.

Ultimately regulated carbon markets are a crucial part of climate policy since they encourage significantly lower GHG emissions and support the transition to a low-carbon economy.