A new report by Oxfam International and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) has revealed the shocking gap in carbon emissions between the richest and the poorest segments of the global population. The report, titled ‘Confronting Carbon Inequality’, is based on an analysis of the consumption emissions of different income groups between 1990 and 2015, a period when humanity doubled the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The report found that the richest one percent of the world’s population, comprising about 63 million people, were responsible for more than twice as much carbon pollution as the 3.1 billion people who made up the poorest half of humanity. The richest one percent emitted 15 percent of the cumulative emissions during this time, while the poorest half emitted only 7 percent.
The report also showed that the richest 10 percent of the global population, those with incomes above about $35,000 a year, accounted for over half (52 percent) of the emissions added to the atmosphere between 1990 and 2015. The richest 10 percent blew one third of the remaining global 1.5°C carbon budget, compared to just 4 percent for the poorest half of the population.
The carbon budget is the amount of carbon dioxide that can be added to the atmosphere without causing global temperatures to rise above 1.5°C, the goal set by governments in the Paris Agreement to avoid the worst impacts of uncontrolled climate change.
The Rich World’s Addiction to High-Carbon Transport and Consumption
The report attributed the extreme carbon inequality to the over-consumption and high-carbon lifestyles of the wealthy minority, especially in the rich world. The report found that the growth in emissions was driven by increased consumption of goods and services that have high carbon footprints, such as air travel, car use, and meat and dairy consumption.
The report also highlighted the role of the fossil fuel industry, which has continued to expand production and profits despite the climate crisis. The report estimated that the carbon emissions of the richest 10 percent would be enough to raise the global temperature by 1.5°C by 2030, even if the rest of the world cut their emissions to zero.
The Poor and Young Pay the Price for the Climate Crisis
The report warned that the carbon inequality is not only unjust, but also unsustainable. The report argued that the world cannot achieve the Paris Agreement goals and avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis without addressing the excessive emissions of the rich and ensuring a fair and equitable transition to a low-carbon economy.
The report pointed out that the climate crisis is already affecting the lives and livelihoods of billions of people, especially the poor and young, who have contributed the least to the problem. The report cited examples of how climate change has fueled deadly cyclones, locust swarms, heatwaves, wildfires, and floods in different parts of the world, threatening food security, health, and human rights.
The report called for urgent action from governments, businesses, and individuals to reduce emissions and tackle carbon inequality. The report recommended a range of measures, such as ending subsidies for fossil fuels, investing in renewable energy and public transport, introducing carbon taxes and regulations, and supporting low-carbon development and adaptation in the Global South.
The report also urged the rich to take responsibility for their emissions and change their consumption patterns. The report suggested that the richest 10 percent should reduce their emissions by at least 90 percent by 2030, and that everyone should adopt more sustainable lifestyles, such as flying less, driving less, eating less meat, and wasting less food.