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SEI brief

The inequality-emissions link and what it means for the 1.5°C goal

A 2020 analysis of carbon dioxide emissions by SEI and Oxfam showed that the richest 10% of the global population are responsible for 46% of the emissions growth between 1990 and 2015.

Incorporating countries’ pledges to reduce their emissions (known as Nationally Determined Contributions, known as NDCs), SEI provided the foundational calculations that informed a 2021 report projecting the emissions of different income groups in 2030.

This note details the methods underlying these estimates.

Emily Ghosh, Sivan Kartha, Anisha Nazareth / Published on 10 January 2022

Ghosh, E., Kartha, S. and Nazareth, A. (2022). SEI methodological note (pre-print). The inequality-emissions link and what it means for the 1.5°C goal. Stockholm Environment Institute.

Even assuming countries fulfil their promised emissions reductions, the planet’s richest 1% is still on track to generate per capita consumption emissions in 2030 that are 30 times higher than what would be consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5°C, according to estimates by SEI researchers.

This is one of several findings put forth in a recent report by Oxfam and Institute for European and Environmental Policy that underscores the emissions chasm between the world’s richest and poorest populations.

The share of global emissions produced by the top 1% is only expected to grow despite the 2015 signing of the Paris Agreement.

It is not just the 1% burning through the global carbon budget. The top 10%, which includes those with a minimum income of $56 000, are projected under the current NDCs to generate enough emissions in 2030 to nearly exceed a 1.5°C-consistent global emission level. This would leave barely any emissions space for the world’s poorest, particularly in the absence of major financial and technological support to overcome energy poverty sustainably. With the world’s poorest suffering disproportionately from the impacts of climate change, meeting their needs must be a priority use for the rapidly diminishing atmospheric space.

This methodological note details how we arrived at these calculations, which account for household consumption and international trade.

SEI authors

2018 portrait of Emily Ghosh
Emily Ghosh



Profile picture of Sivan Kartha
Sivan Kartha

Equitable Transitions Program Director


Anisha Nazareth
Anisha Nazareth

Associate Scientist


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