Oxfam’s new report, ‘The Carbon Inequality Era’ is based on research conducted with SEI and is being released as world leaders prepare to meet at the UN General Assembly to discuss global challenges including the climate crisis.
The report assesses the consumption emissions of different income groups between 1990 and 2015 – 25 years when humanity doubled the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It found:
- The richest 10 percent accounted for over half (52 percent) of the emissions added to the atmosphere between 1990 and 2015. The richest one percent were responsible for 15 percent of emissions during this time – more than all the citizens of the EU and more than twice that of the poorest half of humanity (7 percent).
- 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 carbon budget is the amount of carbon dioxide that can be added to the atmosphere without causing global temperatures to rise above 1.5C – the goal set by governments in the Paris Agreement to avoid the very worst impacts of uncontrolled climate change.
- Annual emissions grew by 60 percent between 1990 and 2015. The richest 5 percent were responsible for over a third (37 percent) of this growth. The total increase in emissions of the richest one percent was three times more than that of the poorest 50 percent.
“The over-consumption of a wealthy minority is fuelling the climate crisis yet it is poor communities and young people who are paying the price. Such extreme carbon inequality is a direct consequence of our governments decades long pursuit of grossly unequal and carbon intensive economic growth.”
— Tim Gore, Head of Climate Policy at Oxfam and author of the report
Carbon emissions are likely to rapidly rebound as governments ease Covid-related lockdowns. 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. 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.
During 2020, and with around 1C of global heating, climate change has fuelled deadly cyclones in India and Bangladesh, huge locust swarms that have devastated crops across Africa and unprecedented heatwaves and wildfires across Australia and the US. No one is immune but it is the poorest and most marginalized people who are hardest hit. For example, women are at increased risk of violence and abuse in the aftermath of a disaster.
The report estimates that the per capita emissions of the richest 10 percent will need to be around 10 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 percent to the EU average would cut annual emissions by over a quarter.
Target the emissions of the richest
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. For example, a recent study found that the richest 10 percent of households use almost half (45 percent) of all the energy linked to land transport and three quarters of all energy linked to aviation. Transportation accounts for around a quarter of global emissions today, while SUVs were the second biggest driver of global carbon emissions growth between 2010 and 2018.
Gore said: “Simply rebooting our outdated, unfair, and polluting pre-Covid economies is no longer a viable option. Governments must seize this opportunity to reshape our economies and build a better tomorrow for us all.
“Governments must curb the emissions of the wealthy through taxes and bans on luxury carbon such as SUVs and frequent flights. Revenues should be invested in public services and low carbon sectors to create jobs, and help end poverty,” added Gore.
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Oxfam is a global movement of people who are fighting inequality to beat poverty together. We tackle the inequalities that make and keep people poor. We save and protect lives in times of crisis, work with people to build resilience and rebuild their livelihoods and, because we want lasting solutions, we campaign for genuine, durable change.