Richest 1% of world population responsible for carbon pollution twice that of poorest 50%: Oxfam

The richest 1% of the world’s population are responsible for more than twice as much carbon pollution as the 3.1bn people who made up the poorest half of humanity during a critical 25-year period of unprecedented emissions growth, Oxfam’s new report said on Monday. It is based on research conducted with the Stockholm Environment Institute and is being released as world leaders prepare to meet at the UN General Assembly to discuss global challenges including the climate crisis.

‘Confronting Carbon Inequality’ 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 that the richest 10% accounted for over half (52%) of the emissions added to the atmosphere between 1990 and 2015. The richest 1% were responsible for 15% 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%).

During this time, the richest 10% blew one third of our remaining global 1.5C carbon budget, compared to just 4% 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% between 1990 and 2015. The richest 5% were responsible for over a third (37%) of this growth. The total increase in emissions of the richest 1% was three times more than that of the poorest 50%.

Tim Gore, Head of Climate Policy at Oxfam and author of the report said: “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.”

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% would blow the carbon budget by 2033 even if all other emissions were cut to zero, the report said.


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