Gross Inequality

Top 1% emit over 1,000 times more CO2 than bottom 1%

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To stop climate change, target the rich

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by Jeremy Williams
The Earthbound Report, February 22, 2023

“The world’s top 1% of emitters over 1,000 times more CO2 than the bottom 1%.”

That’s the kind of killer fact that we’ve come to expect from organizations like Oxfam – a shocking and blunt illustration of climate justice. But this one’s not from Oxfam or any other development or environmental group. It’s from the International Energy Agency.

Their latest piece of analysis looks at the breakdown of CO2 emissions by income, and finds that emissions are grossly tilted towards the top:

That’s a pretty extraordinary chart, and it’s one to show to anyone who persists in saying that population is the main driver of environmental decline. It’s about overconsumption by a few.

As the graph shows, almost half of all energy related emissions come from the top 10% of emitters – who are also the wealthiest. The lowest 10% of emitters have just 0.2% of emissions to their name.

Lest we be thinking about millionaires and billionaires, consider that the top decile of the world’s population is 782 million people. If you’re reading this in the US or Europe, you’re likely to be part of it, though there are people from every continent included in the top 10% of emitters. By contrast, the lowest emitters are clustered in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

The IEA draw the same conclusion that I always do, climate action needs to begin with the richest. They have the highest footprints, and they also have the means to change.

“If the top 10% of emitters globally maintain their current emissions levels from now onwards, they alone will exceed the remaining carbon budget in the IEA’s Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario by the year 2046. In other words, substantial and rapid action by the richest 10% is essential to decarbonize fast enough to keep 1.5°C warming in sight.”

Jeremy Williams is the author of Climate Change is Racist: Race, Privilege and the Struggle for Climate Justice (Icon Books, 2021)

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