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Making A Market
CNBC.com | September 29, 2009 | 10:06 AM EDT

If carbon cap-and-trade becomes a reality, get ready for a potential multi-trillion dollar commodities market that could sprout up quickly, but not without growing pains.

“I’m estimating carbon markets could be worth $2 trillion in transaction value – money changing hands – within five years of trading (starting),” says Bart Chilton, a Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) commissioner, who's also chairman of its energy and environmental markets advisory committee . “That would make it the largest physically traded commodity in the US, surpassing even oil.”

Chilton's estimate is based on futures activity in commodities. “It’s a fairly reasonable to estimate 10 times the expected cash market,” he says, pointing to a multimillion dollar voluntary carbon market in the US in 2008.

That could mean a carbon emissions market of 60 to 180 million contracts. By comparison, 135 million contracts of light sweet crude oil, 39 million contracts of natural gas and 53 million of all metals were traded on the Nymex in 2008.

“It’s very exciting, the opportunities are really unbounded,” he says. “We’re going to see innovation and really fast and furious growth. The potential for this market is truly impressive.”

US carbon markets are just getting started.

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