“There is a base being built for a really strong local economy around this,” says Nuwal, a former J.P. Morgan Chase investment banker. “Carbon is getting more and more difficult. A significant amount of the business that is done in the carbon space should shift.”
Nuwal’s decision is one more sign that the consensus reached 14 years ago by 193 nations and the European Union in Kyoto, Japan, may have fractured beyond repair. The plan, which introduced greenhouse-gas restrictions to support a global carbon market, is breaking down as the United States and China grapple over how, when and to what extent they can reduce pollution.
With the two biggest economies blocking progress on emissions, global temperatures last year matched the record highs of 2005 while droughts and flooding wrecked harvests from Karachi to Rio de Janeiro. Today, the price of carbon languishes at less than half the level Deutsche Bank says is needed to meet the U.N.’s aims for controlling global warming. Officials and investors say local initiatives such as Nuwal’s may offer the best chance of both slowing emissions and making money from the process.
“People are moving on to Plan B,” says John O. Niles, director of Tropical Forest Group, a nonprofit lobbying organization. “That means taking what we can get wherever we can get it.”
The latest casualties of the death of the Kyoto plan may be the companies and executives who bet their careers and their capital that credits to release carbon into the environment would become a globally traded commodity to rival the $21 trillion market in crude oil.
So far, the carbon market is a comparative blip on the landscape. Banks and brokers traded $128 billion of carbon credits last year.
‘Not enough investment’
“All the people I’ve seen who went into carbon trading have failed and moved out,” says Jason Kennedy, chief executive officer of headhunter Kennedy Associates. “There’s not enough volume, not enough pay and not enough investment.”
Even pilot programs are being killed.
IntercontinentalExchange closed its voluntary carbon-trading platform on the Chicago Climate Exchange on Jan. 31, while J.P. Morgan Chase shut down carbon credit origination at several offices and fired staff after acquiring EcoSecurities Group, the biggest offset developer. The Geneva-based International Emissions Trading Association says its membership has declined about 16 percent since the international divisions emerged at the 2009 annual climate summit held in Copenhagen.