Elite plundering planet to destruction; richest 1% account for more emissions than poorest 66%

23 November, 2023

The richest 1% of the world’s population produced as much carbon pollution in 2019 as the five billion people who made up the poorest two-thirds of humanity, according to a report published by Oxfam ahead of the UN Climate Summit, COP28.

The report, ‘Climate Equality: A Planet for the 99%’, is based on research with the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). It assesses the consumption emissions of different income groups, highlighting the stark gap between the carbon footprints of the super-rich —whose carbon-hungry lifestyles and investments in polluting industries like fossil fuels are driving global warming— and the rest of the world.

The study shows there is also vast inequality in how the impacts of the rapidly changing climate are felt. It is people living in poverty; marginalised groups such as women and Indigenous Peoples; and low-income countries, who have done the least to cause it, who are suffering the worst consequences – and who are least able to respond or recover.

With climate change driving a rise in world temperatures, deaths from heat are set to increase dramatically, particularly in low-income countries. The report reveals the outsized emissions of the richest 1% will cause 1.3 million heat-related excess deaths – roughly equivalent to the population of Dublin – with most of these deaths occurring between 2020 and 2030.

Chiara Liguori, Oxfam’s Senior Climate Justice Policy Advisor says “the super-rich are plundering and polluting the planet to the point of destruction and it is those who can least afford it who are paying the highest price”.

Emission Summary by Global Income Group


1990 Emissions

2015 Emissions

2019 Emissions

Growth between 1990-2019

Income Groups

%

absolute (GtCO2)

tCO2/cap

$1000 /cap

%

absolute (GtCO2)

tCO2/cap

$1000 /cap

%

absolute (GtCO2)

tCO2/cap

$1000 /cap

GtCO2

%

Top 0.1%

3%

0.78

147.48

465.47

4%

1.59

214.94

1093.70

4%

1.66

213.96

1173.64

0.88

6.1%

Next 0.9%

11%

2.55

53.59

116.90

12%

4.11

61.63

200.81

11%

4.20

60.24

214.07

1.64

11.4%

Next 9%

38%

8.69

18.24

38.21

34%

12.27

18.41

60.65

34%

12.51

17.95

64.96

3.82

26.6%

Middle 40%

41%

9.23

4.36

7.89

42%

14.93

5.04

14.85

43%

15.84

5.11

15.79

6.61

46.1%

Bottom 50%

7%

1.52

0.58

0.93

8%

2.69

0.73

2.05

8%

2.91

0.75

2.16

1.39

9.7%

The huge scale of climate inequality revealed in the report highlights how the two crises are “inextricably linked – fuelling one another – and the urgent need to ensure the rising costs of climate change fall on those most responsible and able to pay,” says Ms Liguori.

“The gap between the super-rich and the rest of us is stark. It would take about 1,500 years for someone in the bottom 99 per cent to produce as much carbon as the richest billionaires do in a year. This is fundamentally unfair,” she adds.

Key findings from the report show:

  • The richest 1% (77 million people) were responsible for 16% of global consumption emissions in 2019 – more than all car and road transport emissions;
  • The richest 10% accounted for half (50%) of emissions;
  • It would take about 1,500 years for someone in the bottom 99% to produce as much carbon as the richest billionaires do in a year;
  • Since the 1990s, the richest 1% have burned through more than twice as much carbon as the bottom half of humanity;
  • The carbon emissions of the richest 1% are set to be 22 times greater than the level compatible with the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement in 2030;
  • By contrast, the emissions of the poorest half of the global population are set to remain at one-fifth of the 1.5°C compatible level;
  • Every year, the emissions of the richest 1% cancel out the carbon savings coming from nearly one million wind turbines;
  • The death toll from floods is seven times higher in the most unequal countries compared to more equal ones.

With climate resilience increasingly on the agenda, Oxfam analysis shows that that the long-term impacts of a changing climate, such as chronically lower crop yields or water scarcity, have already become a reality.

“Climate change is a burden not shared equally. Governments can and must act now,” says Ms Liguori.

Oxfam is calling for hefty wealth taxes on the super-rich and windfall taxes on fossil fuel companies. It calculates that a global 60% tax on the incomes of the richest 1% would cut emissions by more than the total emissions of the UK and raise GBP5.2 trillion (USD6.4 trillion) a year to pay for the transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy.