Carbon Trading May Dwarf That of Crude Oil

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"If carbon cap-and-trade becomes a reality, get ready for a potential multi-trillion dollar commodities market. . ."

If carbon cap-and-trade becomes a reality, get ready for a potential multi-trillion dollar commodities market that could sprout up quickly, but not without growing pains.

"I'm estimating carbon markets could be worth $2 trillion in transaction valueŚmoney changing handsŚwithin five years of trading (starting)," says Bart Chilton, a Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) commissioner, who's also chairman of its energy and environmental markets advisory committee. "That would make it the largest physically traded commodity in the U.S., surpassing even oil."

Chilton's estimate is based on futures activity in commodities. "It's a fairly reasonable to estimate 10 times the expected cash market," he says, pointing to a multimillion dollar voluntary carbon market in the U.S. in 2008.

That could mean a carbon emissions market of 60 to 180 million contracts. By comparison, 135 million contracts of light sweet crude oil, 39 million contracts of natural gas and 53 million of all metals were traded on the Nymex in 2008.

"It's very exciting, the opportunities are really unbounded," he says. "We're going to see innovation and really fast and furious growth. The potential for this market is truly impressive."

U.S. carbon markets are just getting started.

The World Bank estimates the value of global carbon markets jumped from $110 million in 2002 to $126 billion in 2008, while a recent report by New Carbon Finance and Ecosystems Marketplace shows 123 million tons of carbon credits worth $705 million were traded here in 2008.

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