At least $40 million worth of carbon credits have been stolen in recent weeks from various registries across Europe, in what some are calling a growing black market for carbon credits.The Wall Street Journal explains that there are efforts to get the credits returned, but the task is much easier in some cases than others:
The imminent retrieval of 488,141 emissions certificates from Liechtenstein and Sweden comes as leading energy traders Monday urged registries to reopen quickly following a series of thefts under the EU's Emissions Trading System that have led the EU to shut the spot market until security is improved...
The stolen Austrian certificates come from the registry's reserve account and aren't associated with a particular company. In other cases, leading industrial companies, including Czech-based power company CEZ AS and Holcim Ltd. have reported the theft of certificates valued at millions of euros...
In Germany, national emissions registry officials say CO2 allowances become property of account holders once the certificates are registered on their accounts, provided the buyer acted in good faith. That means authorities might not be able to recovery stolen certificates in Germany.
The credits swiped from the Czech company, Scientific American reports, would allow a company to pollute up to half a million tons of carbon emissions—a small amount in the grand scheme of industrial emissions, but the real concern lies in the fact that it's even possible. It lends even more skepticism to an already imperfect plan for reigning in emissions.
"The event put the spotlight on an emerging black market for the right to pollute the planet," Scientific American wrote, and then referenced Point Carbon for explaining how the seemingly-solvable crime is not so: "the thief swiftly transferred the stolen permits to a registry in Poland, then to others in Estonia and Lichtenstein, before they disappeared altogether. Reuters reported that other unnamed carbon account holders were also raided."
The Journal quotes a spokesman for the Vienna State Prosecutor's office, speaking about the theft in Austria: "We haven't yet found out who are behind the crime. They have covered their tracks very well."
Yet implementing better regulation of the emissions market in Europe, which has the world's largest carbon trading scheme, doesn't seem to be a priority. But if carbon trading is to be given any legitimacy as a path to reducing emissions, it has to stop, for one thing, being vulnerable to black market practices.