The Wealthiest 1% Create Twice the CO2 Emissions of the Poorest 50%

Graphic: Annabel Driussi for ODP

By Amy Lupica, ODP Contributing Writer

The world’s richest one percent cause more than double the CO2 of the poorest 50% according to a new study from Oxfam. From 1990 to 2015, CO2 emissions rose by 60%; experts saw the wealthiest one percent’s emissions rise three times more than those of the poorest half during that period. Experts believe that if the people who make up the richest 10% continue to consume at this rate for the next 10 years, climate change could surpass the critical 1.5 degrees Celsius global average temperature, which could lead to a cascade of negative impacts — floods, wildfires, drought, extreme heat, and poverty across the globe.

 Why this matters: While the wealthiest indulge in luxuries that contribute more to climate change, a federal report found that the poor will be among the earliest victims of climate crises and will be impacted the most. There is also structural inequality when it comes to solutions. “Better-resourced communities have created climate offices and programs, while the response has lagged in smaller or poorer communities,” the report explained, causing “green gentrification” in which poorer residents are pushed out of the protective range of these programs.  Thus, the poorest communities — which are generally Black or brown — will be left without the resources to combat climate disasters fueled by the wealthy.

The Haves

According to the Guardian, the richest 1% are people earning more than about $100,000 annually.  Researchers at the University of Leeds found that as income level rises, demand for high intensity, luxury goods increase as well. These goods include long-distance travel by air, prompting proposals for a carbon tax on frequent flyers. The list also includes new vehicles, vehicle fuel, and extra household appliances. In recent years, SUV’s have become the most popular vehicle in the United States; SUV’s are popular among the wealthy, consume more gas than compact cars, and were the second largest contributor to rising global carbon emissions between 2010 and 2018. As opposed to amenities like water and heat which are considered high intensity yet basic amenities, these luxuries cause vast amounts of CO2 emissions at the expense of those who cannot afford them.

Climate experts say we may have less than 17 years before we’ve exhausted our “carbon budget” and the global average temperature reaches 2 degrees Celsius, leading to a severe rise in natural disasters like hurricanes, wildfires, drought, and a rise in global poverty levels.  Danny Sriskandarajah, Oxfam’s chief executive in the United Kingdom, said of the study, “The over-consumption of a wealthy minority is fuelling the climate crisis and putting the planet in peril. No one is immune from the impact but the world’s poorest are paying the heaviest price despite contributing least emissions as they battle floods, famines and cyclones.”

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