Extreme carbon inequality uncovered

 The carbon emissions of the richest 1% are more than double those of the three billion people in the poorest half of the world’s population, Oxfam research has uncovered.

Fuelled by luxury lifestyles and overindulgence, the findings show that the wealthiest 1% account for 15% of global consumption emissions, while the poorest half of the population generate just 7%. Moreover, the increase in emissions over 25 years from the richest 1% has been three times more than the rise from the poorest 50%, who suffer most from climate-induced floods, famines and cyclones.

Former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said that the findings provide further evidence that economic models have not only driven dangerous climate change, but have also been an enabler of “catastrophic inequality”. “The COVID-19 pandemic provides an incontestable imperative to rebuild better and place the global economy on a more sustainable, resilient and fairer footing,” he said. “Addressing the disproportionate carbon emissions from the wealthiest in society must be a key priority.”

Oxfam’s research involved assessing the consumption emissions of different income groups between 1990 and 2015, during which time the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere doubled.

The findings also show that the world’s richest 10% – approximately 630 million people – accounted for 52% of emissions, and one-third of the emissions that scientists believe will trigger catastrophic and irreversible climate change. The poorest half of humanity emitted just 4%.

Oxfam said that governments can tackle both extreme inequality and the climate crisis if they target the excessive emissions of the richest and invest in poor and vulnerable communities. The charity called for an increase in wealth taxes and new carbon levies on luxury items such as private jets and super-yachts, as well as SUVs and frequent flights. 

It said that the revenue generated should be invested in low-carbon jobs, such as in the social care sector and in green public transport, and used to help poor communities around the world adapt to the changing climate.

“Extreme carbon inequality is a direct consequence of the decades-long pursuit by governments and businesses of grossly unequal and carbon-intensive economic growth whatever the cost,” said Oxfam GB’s chief executive Danny Sriskandarajah.

“As leaders make decisions about what a post-COVID recovery looks like, they should seize this opportunity to reshape our economy, encourage low-carbon living and create a better future for all.”

Image credit | iStock
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