CEPII, Recherche et Expertise sur l'economie mondiale
Financing energy and low-carbon investment: public guarantees and the ECB

Michel Aglietta
Étienne Espagne

The eurozone has been said to have caught a disease called “secular stagnation”. Productive investment in the private sector fell by about 20% overall between 2007 and 2014, while private saving has surged, creating a huge gap between gross domestic savings and investment. The trajectory of actual GDP has decoupled from successive estimates of potential GDP, and there is no sign of a spontaneous short-term adjustment. The engineering of a powerful investment drive seems the only way out of this self-fulfilling low-growth trap.
The European Union has already set investment objectives in the Climate and Energy Package. These targets cover four areas: renewable energy supply capacity, electricity distribution networks, energy efficiency in building renovation and urban mobility. Several financing tools need to be combined to tailor risk-sharing devices for investments in each of these sectors. First and foremost, is the integration of a high carbon price. However, as any sudden sharp increase in the overall carbon price would have a major (and politically unsustainable) impact on the rest of the economy, a core issue is how to create a transitory distinction between the carbon price included/paid by the existing capital stock and the carbon price included/paid by new low carbon investments.
This can be achieved through a two-tier approach. First, for the four key sectors, a high notional carbon price is used to set an asset value on the carbon saved by new investments (“carbon asset”): these assets are accepted as repayment by central banks, and publically guaranteed. The ECB, by buying financial instruments issued by the low-carbon investors, creates a direct transmission channel to these areas of the economy. Second, fiscal measures ensure the carbon price catches up with the notional value, thus generating revenues that allow for the purchase of the carbon debt held by the central banks, guaranteeing the final budget neutrality of the process. By focusing on investments in these four sectors, the European output gap could be closed in the short run and a credible path opened to a low carbon economy.

 Mots-clés : Ecular Stagnation | Social Cost of Carbon | Certification | Low Carbon Transition | Energy Transition

 JEL : Q43, Q48
CEPII Policy Brief
N°2015-06,  2015

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