German Emissions Trading Authority

The European Emissions Trading System and its implementation in Germany

The European Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) is the central climate change mitigation instrument within the European Union (EU) for reducing both climate-damaging greenhouse gas emissions from energy and industrial plants and intra-European aviation, in a cost-efficient manner. The EU ETS accounts for approximately 45 percent of total EU greenhouse gas emissions. The emissions trading system is uniformly regulated and implemented throughout Europe. It is based on tradable emission allowances which set the maximum total emissions for all participants in the industries involved.

Who participates in emissions trading?

Emissions trading has been introduced in all EU Member States. In addition, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein have joined the European Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS).

Emission intensive facilities (stationary area)

The following installations are subject to European emissions trading:

  • Large energy installations, in particular fossil-fuel power plants, heating plants (combined heat and power) and standard heating plants (in each case from 20 MW rated thermal input).
  • Energy-intensive industrial installations such as blast furnaces in the steel industry, refineries and cement works.
  • Installations that also release nitrous oxide (N2O) during the production of adipic and nitric acid
  • Installations that emit perfluorocarbons (PFCs) in primary aluminium production. These are also subject to emissions trading due to their N2O and PFC emissions. These gases are significantly more harmful to the climate than CO2 – nitrous oxide by 300 times and PFC by more than 6000 times.

In total, around 12,000 stationary installations and aircraft operators functioning within the EEA are subject to European emissions trading. The emissions from these installations generate about 45 percent of all European greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, since 2005 the EU has set up the world's largest emissions trading system so far. Only the planned Chinese emissions trading system will be bigger.

Germany has the largest share of installations and emissions in European emissions trading.

In Germany, about three-quarters of the greenhouse gas emissions subject to trading come from energy installations, in particular from power plants (electricity) and cogeneration plants (electricity and heat) and to a lesser extent from heating plants (heat); this is based on a distinction between industry and energy in emissions trading.

This means, for example, that energy installations also include power plants operated by industrial companies for their own electricity consumption.

The remaining quarter of greenhouse gas emissions subject to emissions trading is caused by energy-intensive industrial installations. Such installations for the production and processing of iron and steel (for example blast furnaces) have the largest share. Emissions from the mineral processing industry (such as cement and lime kilns, glass furnaces) are almost as extensive, closely followed by refineries and chemical plants in third and fourth place.


Further Information


In aviation there are sometimes different EU ETS rules and regulations for stationary installations. Originally, greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft entering or leaving the European Economic Area (EEA) were included. Thus, flight connections between Europe and non-European foreign countries were also considered.

Between 2012 and 2016, only intra-European flights including take-off and landing in the EEA were included. This was a European Union concession to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to support worldwide negotiations for a global market-based measure to reduce international aviation emissions.

In autumn 2016, ICAO decided to introduce a market-based measure to stabilise emissions from international civil aviation at the 2019/2020 level by 2021. To support this decision, the limitation of the EU ETS on intra-European aviation will initially be continued until the end of 2023.


Further information concerning aviation

How many emission allowances does an installation need?

In emissions trading allowances are traded. These emission allowances relate to the climate impact of one tonne of carbon dioxide (carbon dioxide equivalent CO2eq). The emission allowances are also called "certificates" and abbreviated to EUA (for EU Allowance).Each operator must surrender such allowances for the emissions of its installations subject to emissions trading. For this purpose, each operator has an emission allowance account in the EU Emissions Trading Registry, also called Union Registry.

It is billed in calendar years. By the end of March, operators will determine the greenhouse gas emissions of their installations during the previous year. These data are first checked by nationally accredited verifiers (e. g.) TÜV and other large testing organisations) and only then forwarded to the Union Registry. The operator must surrender appropriate emission allowances to the Union Registry by the end of April at the latest.

If insufficient emission allowances are surrendered, major sanctions are threatened: for every tonne of CO2eq that has no emission allowance surrendered, 100 euros must be paid (adjusted for inflation) (based on 2012). Operators therefore make sure that they have sufficient allowances by the 30/04 at the latest. If they do not have enough emission allowances, they can buy them or bid for them beforehand on the energy exchanges in Leipzig (EEX) or London (ICE).


How is the total amount of emission allowances determined and brought to market?

Provision of emission allowances

For each trading period an initial emission reduction target is specified in order to establish a specific quantity of emission allowances. Mostly the English term "cap" (upper limit) is used. This then determines how the emission allowances are provided.

Emissions cap

For the current third trading period (2013-2020), a Europe-wide cap totalling 15.6 billion emission allowances was approved. These allowances were distributed over the eight years of the trading period, but not uniformly. In fact, the amount was reduced annually by around 38 million tonnes compared to the previous year. In the last trading year, an emission reduction of 21 percent compared to the 2005 emissions should be achieved.

Free allocation

Some of the allowances will be partly auctioned off and partly allocated free of charge. The auctions take place on the stock exchange. The free allocation of allowances is based on product emission values ("benchmarks"). These specify how much CO2eq the most efficient installations emit in producing one tonne of product (e. g. one tonne of aluminium). As a rule, the allocation amount is calculated using the production quantity of the installation.

The following rules apply:

  • For power generation, 100 percent of allowances must be acquired on the market as there is no longer any free allocation. Exceptions apply to power generation in some European transition states.
  • A part of industrial and heat production receives free allocations that are expected to decrease from 80 percent in 2013 to 30 percent in 2020 (each based on the product benchmarks described above, i. e. the amount of emissions from efficient production).
  • If products are manufactured where a “carbon leakage risk” is assumed, there is a largely free allocation for the production plants. Carbon leakage refers to a shift in production processes and thus greenhouse gas emissions to non-European countries due to the costs of European emissions trading. The products subject to this risk are specified by the European Commission in the Carbon Leakage List.
  • There is also a cross-sectoral correction factor which ensures that free allocation for the industry does not exceed a certain part of the cap (industrial cap). For the free heat allocation, the linear reduction factor applies.


As a result, the above regulations result in up to 50 percent of the Europe-wide cap of the third trading period being available for free allocations.

The remainder will be auctioned or held in the Market Stability Reserve (MSR), potentially available for future auctions. Due to the agreed cuts in auctions and the shifts into MSR, less than 50 percent of the emission allowances effectively issued in Europe will be auctioned in the third trading period. The basic principle "auctioning as a basic allocation rule", which was planned for the third trading period, will only be implemented for power generation. However, the free allocation to industry will not decline during the trading period as originally envisaged as nearly all sectors of industry are currently on the Carbon Leakage list.

The allowances for aviation are also provided via free allocations as well as via auctions.

How is trading in emission allowances carried out?

Emission allowances are traded primarily on the trading venues in London (ICE) and Leipzig (EEX). Smaller volumes are also traded on other stock exchanges. There is also a relevant off-exchange trading. The auctions, i.e. the auctioning of emission allowances, currently take place exclusively on the EEX and the ICE.

Auctions take place nearly every day. This regularity ensures that the auctions fit seamlessly into the market activities. Consequently, the prices obtained at the auctions correspond to the level of prices in the ongoing stock market trading.

All auction results will be published online within a few minutes. This provides the highest possible market transparency. The entire market for emission allowances is regularly described in auction reports by the German Emissions Trading Authority (DEHSt).

These reports deal not only with the auctions, but also with the much larger volume of continuous trading on the stock exchanges. In terms of the relevant overall market for emission allowances, about 13 percent of the traded volume was attributable to auctions in 2017 (2016: 11 percent).

The prices for emission allowances are based on supply and demand. While the unused emission allowances became invalid at the end of the first trading period, for the 2nd trading period surplus emission allowances can be transferred to the following trading periods. Therefore, many market considerations began at the start of the second trading period in 2008.

Due to generous caps and lower emissions due to a decline in production as a result of the economic crisis of 2008/2009 as well as high utilisation rates for international project credits, a surplus of emission allowances accumulated in the second and third trading periods. This has led to a corresponding decline in price.

To reduce the surpluses, a total of 900 million emission allowances were withheld from the auctions between 2014 and 2016 (backloading).

In order to permanently reduce surpluses and respond to peaks in demand, the Market Stability Reserve (MSR) will be introduced in 2019. The MSR reduces the volume of annual auctions if there are too many emission allowances in circulation. Alternatively, it increases them to a limited extent if there are too few emission allowances in the market. The emission allowances that were set aside as part of backloading are transferred directly to the Market Stability Reserve (MSR).


Surpluses and Market Stability Reserve

DEHSt reports on the auctioning of emission allowances in Germany

How can companies take advantage of emission reductions in other countries?

The Kyoto Protocol allows developed countries to meet some of their reduction commitments by implementing emission reduction projects abroad. The reductions thus achieved are then credited towards their own national reduction obligation.

There are two types of projects: Joint Implementation and Clean Development Mechanism. However, both will cease together with the Kyoto Protocol in 2020.

Companies can also undertake such projects and use the emission reduction certificates issued to cover their greenhouse gas emissions or sell them on the market. From 2021, new market mechanisms will be introduced in accordance with the Paris Agreement, but their specific form remains open.


To the topic

Where are the emission allowances recorded?

All stakeholders participating in emissions trading – predominantly companies subject to emissions trading but also parties not subject to ETS compliance such as trading houses/banks – have an account with the EU Emissions Trading Registry, also called Union Registry.

All emission allowance transactions such as allocations, purchases, sales, and emission allowance surrenders are recorded on these accounts. The Union Registry is operated by the European Commission. The states involved in emissions trading have their own areas where they administer the accounts for which they are responsible.

For Germany, the German Emissions Trading Authority (DEHSt) administers around 2,750 accounts in the Union Registry. In this role, for example, it handles German applications for opening accounts and issues emission allowances.

Find out more about the Emissions Trading Registry by following the link on the right-hand side of the screen (in the Online Services menu).


State participants – how are tasks distributed in the course of emissions trading?

The day-to-day operation of the European Emissions Trading is ensured by the European Commission and the competent national authorities. In doing so, the Commission makes the EU Emissions Trading Registry available and examines and approves the free allocations in European countries. Emission allowances are issued by the competent national authorities.

As the competent national authority, the German Emissions Trading Authority (DEHSt) is responsible for the following: free allocation to German installation and aircraft operators, monitoring of emissions trading with all rules and obligations for installation and aircraft operators, control of German auctions and much more. Every year in the first quarter, DEHSt reviews the emissions reports of companies and administers the German accounts in the Union Registry. It is subject to the legal and technical supervision of the Federal Ministry of the Environment (BMU).


The German Emissions Trading Authority

The European Commission

Online Services