‘Tiny elite appear to have a free pass to pollute’, Oxfam warns

By 2030 someone in the world’s richest one percent will, on average, be responsible for 30 times the annual carbon emissions of someone in the poorest 50 percent, research commissioned by Oxfam has found.

SpaceX richest 1% emissions
Carbon emissions by the world’s wealthiest 1% will be 30 times greater than the level required to keep pre-industrial heating to 1.5°C by the end of the decade. Photo by SpaceX on NASA Images (CC BY 2.0)

New research, commissioned by Oxfam, shows that carbon emissions by the world’s wealthiest one percent will be 30 times greater than the level required to keep pre-industrial heating to 1.5°C by the end of the decade.

Average footprint must be halved to keep to 1.5 degrees of warming

The new study, entitled Carbon Inequality in 2030: Per capita emissions and the 1.5⁰C goal, is based on research carried out by sustainability think tank the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), an international non-profit research and policy organisation that tackles environment and development challenge.

The study estimates that, by 2030, the world’s 80 million richest people will be responsible for 70 tons of CO2 emissions per year — 30 times the per capita level required to limit global warming to the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement.

Meanwhile, the poorest 50 percent of the world’s population will still emit less than half of the required 2.3 tons of CO2 per person per year.

The estimates are based on countries’ current policies, and their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) — their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.

Oxfam warned:

“Current pledges to reduce emissions fall far short of what is needed. To stay within this guardrail (of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels), every person on Earth would need to emit an average of just 2.3 tons of CO2 per year by 2030 — this is roughly half the average footprint of every person on Earth today.”

“The climate and inequality crises should be tackled together”

Nafkote Dabi, Oxfam’s Climate Policy Lead, said:

“The emissions from a single billionaire spaceflight would exceed the lifetime emissions of someone in the poorest billion people on Earth. A tiny elite appear to have a free pass to pollute. Their over-sized emissions are fuelling extreme weather around the world and jeopardising the international goal of limiting global heating. The emissions of the wealthiest 10 percent alone could send us beyond the agreed limit in the next nine years. This would have catastrophic results for some of the most vulnerable people on Earth who are already facing deadly storms, hunger and destitution.”

Tim Gore, author of the briefing and Head of the Low Carbon and Circular Economy program at IEEP, said:

“The global emissions gap to keep the 1.5°C Paris goal alive is not the result of the consumption of most of the world’s people: it reflects instead the excessive emissions of just the richest citizens on the planet. To close the emissions gap by 2030, it is necessary for governments to target measures at their richest, highest emitters ―the climate and inequality crises should be tackled together. That includes both measures to constrain luxury carbon consumption like mega yachts, private jets, and space travel, and to curb climate-intensive investments like stock-holdings in fossil fuel industries.”

If we dont act now, this century may be our last.”

The research findings highlight the close connection between the climate and inequality crises.

While the world’s poorest billion people are responsible for less than one ton of carbon emissions per person per year, an 11 minute space flight has been estimated to produce at least 75 tons of CO2. Similarly, a 2019 report for the Guardian found that just 20 fossil fuel companies are responsible for more than a third of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Now, Oxfam says world leaders must focus on ‘deeper emissions cuts’, ensuring that ‘the richest people worldwide and within countries make the most radical cuts.’

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres puts it more starkly: “Rank injustice and inequality on this scale is a cancer. If we don’t act now, this century may be our last.”

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