Carbon

As the COP26 banners come down Glasgow can revert, once more, to a rhythm of rain and football. The delegates have gone. The promises have been made. The handshakes done. The general view of the high-profile climate jamboree was lots of hope, high ambition and good intentions, tinged with frustration. Frustration over a lack of detail, ambiguous wording and a less than full throttled va-va-voom from many of the impact players in the global game of curbing the destructive impact of climate change. Despite widespread COVID travel restrictions this was, though, a climate gathering with a record-breaking number of delegates. And the conference halls, side meetings and karaoke bars were full of new faces. For this was the first summit where the corporate world needed its own coloured lanyard. The executives were there in size. This is a step change. The C-suite gets it. Global corporations, both big and small, are part of the solution and they are getting with the programme. Whilst this on the face of it is a huge positive, and is likely to see sustained momentum in coming years, there are also likely vested groups quietly pushing a more self-interested agenda. Politics is at play. In the wake of the summit carbon prices surged to a record high and are now more than double their level at the beginning of the year. The energy stack is what it is, but it needs to change. How it changes is a function of many factors, but carbon pricing is thought to be one. Whilst the thinking goes that higher prices will push coal off the grid, and encourage industry to invest in cleaner technologies, the recent price action has a whiff of speculation to it. Hedge funds are always interested in scarce, tradeable assets. That said, with the march on net-zero picking up steam, how companies manage their carbon output is rattling up the boardroom agenda. A company like Intercontinental Exchange knows this. ICE has just expanded its environmental complex with a new futures contract to allow participants to hedge global carbon prices. Gordon Bennett, CEO of ICE, and – one assumes – no relation to the Scottish born farmer to whom the idiomatic phrase used by the likes of Del Boy Trotter to express surprise, is on it: “As businesses continue to adapt to the challenges and opportunities presented by net zero, we are likely to see increasing adoption of tools to value positive and negative externalities”. Indeed. A company long wedded to innovation, this latest move, after similar initiatives to revolutionise the mortgage market, will come as no surprise to long-term shareholders.