The 'super-rich' (1% of the population) generate as much CO₂ as 5 billion inhabitants

Who emits greater quantities of the gases that are causing climate change into the atmosphere? If the comparison is made based on per capita income (accumulated income or economic resources), the answer is very clear: the "super-rich" are responsible for the vast majority of emissions.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
19 November 2023 Sunday 16:31
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The 'super-rich' (1% of the population) generate as much CO₂ as 5 billion inhabitants

Who emits greater quantities of the gases that are causing climate change into the atmosphere? If the comparison is made based on per capita income (accumulated income or economic resources), the answer is very clear: the "super-rich" are responsible for the vast majority of emissions. The name "super rich" is used to refer to the 1% of the world's population that has the highest income or accumulated economic wealth and serves as a reference in the comparison of responsibilities on climate change in the new Oxfam International report (Climate equality: a planet for 99%). Thus, this study estimates that the 1% of the world's population with the greatest economic wealth (which is a total of about 77 million people) generated the same amount of carbon emissions (gas equivalent) in 2019 (most recent year analyzed). greenhouse gases, causing climate change) than the 5 billion people who make up the poorest two-thirds of humanity. Put another way, each of the "super-rich" people emits the same as 65 poorer people.

Oxfam highlights that its new report on inequalities in responsibility for the current climate crisis "is published on the occasion of the United Nations climate summit, to be held in Dubai, in a context full of doubts about the agreements that maintain the increase in global temperature below 1.5 °C".

Breaking down responsibilities, the Oxfam report states that "the excessive emissions of the richest 1% will cause 1.3 million more heat-related deaths than expected, a figure roughly equivalent to the population of the entire city of Dublin, Ireland. "Most of these deaths will occur between 2020 and 2030."

“The richest are destroying the planet, plundering it and polluting it, while extreme heat, floods and droughts suffocate humanity,” says Oxfam International acting executive director Amitabh Behar.

“We have been fighting for years to end the era of fossil fuels, and thus save the planet and millions of lives. It is now clear that we will not achieve this unless we also end the era of extreme wealth,” says Behar.

“Climate equality: a planet for the 99%” is based on research that Oxfam has carried out together with the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), and analyzes the emissions linked to the consumption habits of different income groups in 2019, last year for which data is available. The study reveals the enormous gap between the carbon footprints of the richest – whose lifestyle and investments in polluting industries such as fossil fuels drive global warming – and the bulk of the world's population.

The richest 1% (77 million people) were responsible for 16% of total emissions based on their consumption habits in 2019, a figure greater than all emissions generated by car travel and road transport. The richest 10% generated half (50%) of total emissions.

It is estimated that it would take anyone belonging to the poorest 99% of humanity around 1,500 years to generate the emissions that the richest billionaires produce in one year.

Every year, the emissions produced by the richest 1% cancel out the carbon emissions savings generated by nearly a million wind turbines.

Compared to the poorest half of humanity, since the 1990s the richest 1% have consumed twice as much carbon available to emit without causing global temperature rise above the safe limit of 1.5°C.

By 2030, the level of emissions generated by the 1% is expected to be 22 times higher than that compatible with the objective of staying below the limit set in the Paris Agreement.

The climate crisis and inequality form a vicious cycle: Oxfam has witnessed first-hand the disproportionate way in which people living in poverty, women and girls, indigenous communities and people in countries in the global South suffer. the effects of climate impacts, which, in turn, increase the inequality gap. The research indicates that the number of people who die from floods in countries where inequality is more serious is seven times higher. Climate change is already intensifying inequalities both within and between countries.

Ofam indicates in its new report that "Governments can address the double crisis of inequality and climate change by combating the excess emissions of the richest people, and investing in improving public services and achieving climate goals. Oxfam calculates that taxing the income of the richest 1% at a rate of 60% would reduce emissions to less than the total emissions of the United Kingdom, and would raise $6.4 trillion a year, which could be used to finance the energy transition renewables, abandoning fossil fuels".

“We must show this relationship explicitly: not taxing wealth makes it possible for the richest to steal from us, degrade the planet and violate democracy. Taxing extreme wealth increases our chances of combating inequality and the climate crisis. Trillions of dollars are at stake that can be allocated to dynamic measures that address current needs and protect the environment; Furthermore, they are funds that would revert to our democracies,” says Behar.

Oxfam's report summarizes its claims to governments in this series of points:

Significantly reduce inequality. Oxfam estimates that it would be possible, through global income redistribution, to provide all people living in poverty with a minimum daily income of $25, while reducing global emissions by 10% (an equivalent figure to approximately the total emissions of the European Union).

Abandon fossil fuels urgently and fairly. Rich countries have contributed disproportionately to climate change, and they must end oil and gas production accordingly. Establishing taxes on large companies and billionaires would help finance the transition to renewable energy.

Put the well-being of the population and the planet before the relentless pursuit of profits, extraction and consumption. Stop using GDP growth as an indicator of humanity's progress.

Notes for editors

Download the report “Climate equality: a planet for the 99%” and the methodological note. You can also consult the Stockholm Environment Institute's dashboard on emissions and inequality.

Oxfam has launched a global petition to make those who pollute the most pay.

The population of Dublin is 1.4 million, according to data collected by the Central Statistics Office of Ireland.

According to Our World in Data, emissions from road transport account for 15% of total CO2 emissions.

According to SEI research, anyone in the poorest 99% of the population emits an average of 4.1 tonnes of carbon per year. Research by Richard Wilk and Beatriz Barros, which focuses on 20 billionaires, indicates that they emit an average of 8,194 tons of CO2 equivalent per year. This figure includes the total calculation of greenhouse gases, which correspond to approximately 5,959 tons of CO2. 5959 divided by 4.1 equals 1453.

Oxfam research has revealed that the investments of just 125 billionaires emit 393 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year – the same amount as France – and an annual average per person a million times higher than that of any person in the 90%. poorest of humanity.