Skip to navigationSkip to content

To really know what the market thinks of climate change, look at how much companies will pay for carbon

DATE IMPORTED:August 21, 2009Smoke bellow from the chimneys of Belchatow Power Station, Europe's largest biggest coal-fired power plant, in this May 7, 2009 file photo. The lignite-fired power plant in Belchatow, European Union's biggest polluter, will need to buy up to 20 million tonnes of CO2 emission permits by 2013, its chief Jacek Kaczorowski told Reuters on August 21, 2009. The plant released the equivalent of nearly 31 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere last year, topping by 4 million tonnes its EU-set ceiling as part of the bloc's attempts to curb global warming. To match Interview POLAND-BELCHATOW/ REUTERS/Peter Andrews
Peter Andrews / Reuters
Money going up in smoke.
  • Michael J. Coren
By Michael J. Coren

Climate and emerging industries editor

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

As the world adapts to climate change, companies around the globe are building a carbon price into their investment models, accounting for the likelihood that carbon will be a big part of their budget one day.

The trend is growing rapidly. In fact, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), a non-profit system for companies to disclose carbon emissions, says that from 2012 to 2016, the number of companies planning to pay for carbon has more than tripled.

In 2016, 517—or about 19% of companies disclosing their carbon emissions to CDP—have set an internal price on carbon, according to the latest survey (pdf). 

The data is based on responses from 1,089 major companies, representing 12% of global emissions, that disclose carbon-related data to CDP on behalf of investors and large purchasing organizations. Of those, 85% of have already set targets for emissions reduction and 62 companies report decreasing emissions while increasing revenue. The price for carbon ranged as low as a few cents to as high as $150 per metric ton, although averages were generally between $5 and $25 in US, UK, Canada, and other regions.

“We are seeing internal carbon pricing moving from theory to practice, with increasing numbers of companies using it as a tool to manage the business risks posed by climate change and prepare for a carbon-constrained future,” wrote Nicolette Bartlett, a director at CDP, by email.

This matters because according to the numbers crunched at last year’s COP21 international climate convention, half the world’s target emission reductions will have to come through market mechanisms like carbon pricing.

Companies serve as bellwethers for expectations on climate change action because they must disclose material risks to shareholders, and make investments in assets lasting decades. And their investors have pushed for more transparency, which has forced companies to make climate-related financial disclosures a part of their accounting. The practice is bound to become even more mainstream: taskforce for the Financial Stability Board, the international body monitoring the global financial system, recommended (pdf) that carbon accounting be adopted in financial filings as part of standard financial reporting this December.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.