Carbon inequality: Emissions of richest 1% twice that of poorest 50%

James Marshall
September 24, 2020

That's according to new research conducted by Stockholm Environment Institute for Oxfam, which suggests almost half of the emissions generated between 1990 and 2015 were created by the richest 10%.

Carbon dioxide emissions rose by 60% over the 25-year period, but the increase in emissions from the richest 1% was three times greater than the increase in emissions from the poorest half. The study also showed that the richest 10 percent of the global population, comprising about 630 million people, was responsible for about 52 percent of global emissions over that period.

The carbon budget is the limit of cumulative greenhouse gas emissions mankind may produce before rendering catastrophic temperature rises unavoidable.

Danny Sriskandarajah, Oxfam GB chief executive, said in a statement: "The over-consumption of a wealthy minority is fuelling the climate crisis and putting the planet in peril".

Sriskandarajah said: "Extreme carbon inequality is a direct effect of the decades-long pursuit by governments and businesses of grossly unequal and carbon intensive economic growth whatever the cost".

Climate Action Minister Eamon Ryan has promised climate action will be "socially progressive and environmentally progressive", but there is anxiety among large sectors of the population that they will have to carry an undue burden through taxes on essential fuels and job losses in carbon-intensive industries. First, it's imperative that governments target the emissions of the rich to slow an ever-increasing carbon growth, especially through aviation, housing, and energy. No one is immune, but it is the poorest and most marginalised people who are hardest hit.

The richest in India are also contributing to the climate inequality, with the report noting that even though the highest contributors to the disparity are from North America and Europe, "an increasing share of emissions associated with the consumption of the richest 10% and 1% of people in the world, is located in rapidly growing and industrializing countries such as China and India". This disproportionate carbon dioxide emissions by the richest 1% must be balanced and be made equitable.

And similarly, the effects of the climate crisis are already being felt by the most vulnerable communities, despite such groups contributing the least to climate change. "The impacts of climate change are not distributed equally amongst individuals or nations - nor should be the responsibility for tackling it". For example, women are at increased risk of violence and abuse in the aftermath of a disaster.

"Confronting Carbon Inequality" estimates that the per capita emissions of the richest 10 per cent will need to be around ten times lower by 2030 to keep the world on track for just 1.5C of warming - this is equivalent to cutting global annual emissions by a third. Even reducing the per capita emissions of the richest 10 per cent to the European Union average would cut annual emissions by over a quarter.

"Simply rebooting our outdated, unfair and polluting pre-Covid economies is no longer a viable option. As leaders make decisions about what a post-Covid19 recovery looks like, they should seize this opportunity to reshape our economy, encourage low carbon living and create a better future for all", Sriskandarajah noted, urging change.

The charity is calling for an increase in wealth taxes and new carbon taxes on luxury items, including private jets and super yachts, as well as carbon-intensive SUVs and frequent flights.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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