“A wealthy minority is fueling the climate crisis, yet it is poor communities and young people who are paying the price,” says Oxfam’s Tim Gore.
Just one percent of the world’s population – the wealthiest of us all – are responsible for more than twice as much carbon as the 3.1 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity.
That’s according to researchers at the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) based in Sweden, who worked with the global Oxfam NGO to release the “Confronting Carbon Inequality” report on Monday. The report comes as Climate Week kicks off in New York City and global leaders prepare for the annual United Nations General Assembly.
“The overconsumption of a wealthy minority is fueling the climate crisis, yet it is poor communities and young people who are paying the price,” said Tim Gore, Head of Climate Policy at Oxfam and author of the report. “Such extreme carbon inequality is a direct consequence of our governments’ decades-long pursuit of grossly unequal and carbon intensive economic growth.”
The findings point to government policy decisions that would better reflect the responsibilities of wealthier nations, and the people whose lifestyles and consumption are contributing to the carbon-driven climate crisis. The wealthiest 10 percent of global households use 45 percent of all the energy linked to land transport and three quarters of all energy linked to aviation.
“Public policies – from taxing luxury carbon like SUVs, frequent business class flights and private jets, to expanding digital and public transport infrastructure – can cut emissions, reduce inequality and boost public health,” the report said. “But to do so before the carbon budget for 1.5C is totally depleted, they must happen now.”
The numbers are based on a 25-year window that begins in 1990 and ends in 2015, when global annual
carbon emissions grew by some 60 percent and total emissions since the mid-1800s doubled. Global GDP also doubled during the study years but that never translated into wealth for sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and the developing world.
“During this time, the richest 10 percent blew one third of our remaining global 1.5C carbon budget, compared to just 4 percent for the poorest half of the population,” the SEI-Oxfam study adds in a clear call for climate justice. The carbon budget is the amount of CO2 that still can be added to earth’s atmosphere without causing global temperatures to rise above the 1.5C benchmark established by the Paris Agreement in 2015.
“If emissions do not keep falling year on year and carbon inequality is left unchecked the remaining carbon budget for 1.5C will be entirely depleted by 2030,” the researchers said. “However, carbon inequality is so stark the richest 10 percent would blow the carbon budget by 2033 even if all other emissions were cut to zero.”
The per capita emissions of the richest 10 percent will need to be around 10 times lower by 2030 to stay on the 1.5C track, the study said. Even reducing the per capita emissions of the richest 10 percent to the EU average would cut annual emissions by over a quarter.
“Simply rebooting our outdated, unfair, and polluting pre-COVID19 economies is no longer a viable option,” says Gore. “Governments must seize this opportunity to reshape our economies and build a better tomorrow for us all.”