The economics of the CDM levy: Revenue potential, tax incidence and distortionary effects

Working Paper 1


A levy on the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and other carbon trading schemes is a potential source of finance for climate change adaptation.

An adaptation levy of 2 per cent is currently imposed on all CDM transactions, which could raise around $500 million between now and 2012.

We analyse the scope for raising further adaptation finance from the CDM, the economic costs (deadweight loss) of such a measure and the incidence of the levy; that is, the economic burden the levy would impose on the buyers and sellers of credits.

We find that a levy of 2 per cent could raise up to $2 billion a year in 2020 if there are no restrictions on demand. This could rise to $10 billion for a 10 per cent tax.

Restrictions on credit demand (called supplementarity limits, the requirement that most emission abatement should happen domestically) curtail trade volumes and consequently tax revenues. They also alter the economic impact of the CDM levy.

Without supplementarity restrictions, sellers (developing countries) bear two-thirds of the cost of the tax. If there are supplementarity limits, they can pass on the tax burden to buyers (developed countries) more or less in full. Without supplementarity restrictions, the distortionary effect of the levy (its deadweight loss) rises sharply with the tax rate. With them, the deadweight loss is close to zero.

Samuel Fankhauser, Nat Martin and Stephen Prichard