California’s second carbon market auction of the year raises revenue at critical time for climate funds

This blog was co-authored by Sara Olsen, Project Manager, California Political Affairs

Results of the latest Western Climate Initiative auction were released today, showing continued demand for allowances and confidence in the long-term stability of this landmark program. This auction is expected to generate roughly $1.1 billion for the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF), which is dedicated to funding initiatives aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building climate resilience.

A new report from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) finds that, in the past 10 years, climate investments like GGRF have reduced California’s emissions by 109.2 million metric tons — the equivalent to taking 80% of the state’s gas cars off the road — by investing in projects like adding zero-emissions transport options, building affordable housing near job centers and more. As California heads into another summer with an increased risk for wildfire and more impacts of climate change are becoming increasingly severe and evident, the importance of this fund is clearer than ever.

May auction results

  • All 51,589,488 current vintage allowances offered for sale were purchased, resulting in the 15th consecutive sold out auction. This is 0.72% or 373,000 more allowances than were offered at the previous auction.
  • The current auction settled at a price of $37.02, $12.98 above the $24.04 price floor and $4.74 below the February 2024 settlement price of $41.76.
  • All of the 7,211,000 future vintage allowances offered for sale were purchased — these allowances can be used for compliance beginning in 2027. This is the same number of future vintage allowances that were offered at the previous advance auction.
  • Future vintage allowances settled at $38.35, $14.31 above the $24.04 floor price and $2.65 below the February settlement price of $41.00.

What factors may be at play with these results?

A number of factors could be at play with today’s results which saw a lower settlement price than California’s most recent auction. The first is general market variability; potential program changes, such as those being considered by CARB, can drive uncertainty among market participants that results in price fluctuations. While prices in the WCI auctions tend to tick upwards, it’s not uncommon for prices to drop once in a while. This happened most recently in the August and November auctions in 2022, where prices dropped from the May 2022 price of $30.85 down to $27, and then down to $26.80 before starting to trend upward again. Last auction’s settlement price of $41.76 was a record price by $3.03, so today’s price puts the WCI market more on trend with where prices were in November and August of last year. Despite slightly lower prices this quarter, there’s still strong demand overall; the auction was completely sold out. The market continues to be stable, and some price fluctuations are to be expected, especially during periods of program adjustment.

Where is the revenue getting invested?

Over the past ten years, California delivered $11 billion from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) to more than half a million projects that cut pollution and mitigate the impacts of climate change. These investments yield meaningful environmental and community benefits, including a 109 million metric ton reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, 1,248 new or expanded transit projects, 29,800 new jobs, and 12,606 affordable housing projects under contract.

The $1.1 billion in revenue for GGRF from this auction comes at a critical moment, as California grapples with a $27.6 billion budget deficit. As the Governor and policymakers explore budget strategies, climate initiatives face the looming threat of funding cuts. In January, Governor Newsom proposed more than $3.1 billion in cuts and more than $5 billion in delays for climate funding. In the May Revision of his 2023-24 Budget Proposal, Governor Newsom proposed over $3 billion in additional cuts to significant climate investments. The proposal also reallocated funding for various climate programs to GGRF, relying on this source to alleviate the effects of the budget deficit.

Cap-and-trade, through emissions reductions and revenue generation, will be pivotal in addressing California’s current budget and climate challenges. The State’s reliance on the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund as a lifeline for essential climate initiatives only further underscores the need for these funds to be allocated strategically and exclusively towards climate and environmental justice priorities.

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