“Is assigning an internal price to carbon emissions useful for companies? »

Ahen public decarbonization planning is at the heart of economic debates, companies try to anticipate. Although they are not formally obliged to do so, most CAC 40 companies today, for example, mention their greenhouse gas emissions as costs. They are attributed by a fictitious “internal price” to all or part of the tonnes of carbon they emit.

The idea is that the emissions, thus transformed into financial data, will encourage them to favor relatively less carbon-intensive investment options. The State also uses a similar tool to motivate itself to act: the budgetary “yellow”, entitled “Environmental impact of the budget”, appended to finance bills. This voluntary carbon pricing echoes the regulatory obligation that some companies have to pay, this time for real, for their emissions.

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In Europe but also in the United States or China, for example, many companies belonging to certain sectors of activity must pay taxes or buy emission quotas. Historically, internal corporate carbon prices have often preferred such pricing by public authorities.

No effect on the choice of investments

Beyond the fact that they can prepare companies to have to pay for the pollution generated, what is the use of these fictitious internal prices, of this accounting and financial tool highly valued by extra-financial rating agencies? A research conducted in immersion in a large French company in the energy sector (“Governing by the price signal? On the performativity of internal carbon prices in companies”, doctoral thesis in management sciences, Paris-Dauphine-PSL University) shows that having this instrument does not necessarily mean that it is used to reduce emissions.

In this large company, the calculation of the internal carbon price, which has been used for fifteen years, has certainly gradually made employees aware of climate risk, but only once has it had a concrete impact on investment choices, and again, the project concerned had many flaws that made its approval illusory.

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Over this period, the relative decarbonization of the company has in fact resulted from planning, with proactive decision-making such as the end of investments in coal, the implementation of internal standards, in particular energy efficiency objectives , or acquisitions of companies specializing in renewable energies and energy efficiency.

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