The richest one per cent of the world’s population were responsible for more than twice the amount of carbon dioxide emissions as the poorer half of the world from 1990 to 2015, according to a new report by Oxfam and the Stockholm Environment Institute. In fact, while carbon emissions rose by 60 per cent over this period, the total increase in emissions of the one per cent was three times more than that of the poorest 50 per cent. The report was released in time for the annual UN General Assembly that met to discuss global challenges including the climate crisis.

According to the report, ‘Confronting Carbon Inequality’, rampant overconsumption and the rich world’s reliance on high-carbon transport, such as SUVs and flights, are exhausting the world’s carbon budget. The carbon budget is the amount of carbon dioxide that can be still added to the atmosphere without causing global temperatures to rise above 1.5 °C – the limit set by the Paris Agreement. 

The research found that:

  • The richest 10 per cent accounted for over half (52 per cent) of the emissions between that period, with the wealthiest one per cent responsible for 15 per cent of emissions, which is more than twice that of the poorest half of the world’s population (7 per cent).
  • The richest 10 per cent took up one-third of the remaining global 1.5 °C carbon budget, compared to 4 per cent for the poorest half of the population.
  • The richest 5 per cent were responsible for over a third (37 per cent) of the annual emissions growth of 60 per cent between 1990 and 2015.

The report warned that if emissions are not reduced drastically and carbon inequality is left unaddressed, the remaining carbon budget will be spent by 2030. More worryingly, even if all other emissions were cut to zero, the richest 10 per cent would still deplete the carbon budget by 2033 at current rates. It estimates that the per-capita emissions of that group will need to be around 10 times lower by 2030, equivalent to cutting global annual emissions by a third, to avoid a global temperature rise of more than 1.5 °C. 

The poorest 50 per cent of the world comprised approximately 3.1 billion people on average between 1990 and 2015, while the richest 10 per cent were 630 million people, the richest 5 per cent 315 million people, and the richest one per cent 63 million people (all approximate figures).

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. Governments must curb the emissions of the wealthy through taxes and bans on luxury carbon such as SUVs and frequent flights. Revenues should be invested in public services and low-carbon sectors to create jobs and help end poverty.’