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What is Carbon Pricing?

Internal Carbon Pricing: An Exploratory Analysis

Climate change, a global challenge, demands urgent action from all sectors, especially businesses. One strategy companies employ is internal carbon pricing (ICP). Before delving into intricacies, let's define what it entails.

Defining Internal Carbon Pricing

ICP is a self-imposed cost or price that firms assign to each ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) or other greenhouse gases (GHGs) they emit. It's an internal mechanism to capture external costs of climate change, which are usually not reflected in market prices. By attaching a monetary value to each ton of emissions, companies are incentivized to reduce their carbon footprint.

Why Implement Internal Carbon Pricing?

The rationale behind ICP is multifold. First, it allows firms to anticipate potential future regulatory costs related to carbon pricing. With many countries aiming to reduce GHGs, regulations are likely to increase. Second, it encourages sustainable investment decisions by making low-carbon alternatives more economically attractive. Lastly, it enhances corporate reputation by demonstrating commitment to sustainability, aligning with stakeholders' growing expectations for companies to address climate change.

Types of Internal Carbon Pricing

Broadly, there are two types of ICP: shadow pricing and carbon fee.

Shadow Pricing: Here, companies estimate a hypothetical cost of carbon for project evaluations and investment decisions. It's not a physical cost borne by the company, but rather a tool for risk assessment. The 'shadow price' helps compare the cost-effectiveness of different emission-reduction strategies. Shadow pricing is often used by companies that are just starting to explore internal carbon pricing. It involves estimating the cost of reducing emissions and using that estimate as a proxy for the actual cost of emitting carbon. This approach allows companies to get a sense of what their emissions are costing them without actually charging business units or departments for those emissions.

The process for shadow pricing typically involves several steps:

  1. Determine the scope: Companies need to determine which activities within their operations will be subject to shadow pricing. This could include direct emissions from manufacturing processes, indirect emissions from purchased electricity, or even supply chain emissions.

  2. Estimate costs: Companies then estimate the cost per ton of CO2e for each activity they have identified. This could involve looking at the cost of renewable energy projects, energy efficiency improvements, or other measures that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

  3. Apply costs: Once costs have been estimated, they are applied to each activity based on its estimated greenhouse gas footprint. This allows companies to calculate an overall shadow price per ton of CO2e emitted.

  4. Use results: The results can then be used by companies to inform decision-making around investments in clean technologies or other measures aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Explicit Pricing:

Explicit pricing involves actually charging business units or departments within a company for their greenhouse gas emissions, either through an internal tax or through a cap-and-trade system.

Carbon Fee: Companies impose an actual fee on business units based on their GHG emissions. The revenues generated are typically invested in energy efficiency, renewable energy, or other carbon-reducing projects. This approach creates a direct financial incentive to reduce emissions.

Implementing Internal Carbon Pricing

Implementing ICP involves several steps:

Establishing a Carbon Price: The price should be high enough to influence business decisions but feasible within the company's financial constraints. It may be based on existing or expected regulatory prices or the social cost of carbon.

Identifying Scope: Companies should decide whether to apply the price to all GHG emissions or only specific types or sources.

Quantifying Emissions: Companies must calculate their emissions, which may require significant data collection and new systems for tracking and reporting.

Applying the Price: The price is applied to the quantified emissions, generating either a shadow cost for decision-making or an actual cost that must be paid.

Reviewing and Adjusting: The ICP should be reviewed regularly and adjusted as necessary to reflect changes in regulatory environments, market conditions, or company goals.

Challenges and Solutions

ICP implementation faces several challenges. First, quantifying emissions can be complex and time-consuming. Companies can overcome this by investing in data systems and expertise. Second, setting an appropriate price can be difficult due to uncertainty about future regulatory prices or the social cost of carbon. Companies can address this by regularly reviewing and updating their price.

Potential resistance from employees or business units, especially those with high emissions. This can be mitigated through communication and engagement strategies, showing how ICP benefits the company overall.


ICP provides a proactive approach for companies to address climate change, offering a practical strategy to quantify, price, and ultimately reduce their carbon emissions. By integrating ICP into business strategies, companies can stay ahead of regulatory curves, make more sustainable investment decisions, and enhance their corporate reputation.

In the face of a warming world, climate action is no longer just an option but a necessity. ICP is not a silver bullet to solve all climate issues, but it's a powerful tool in the corporate arsenal for climate action. It's an investment in our planet's future, and that future starts now.

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