Part 1: The climate of inequality
First part of an in-depth investigation into the inequality of climate breakdown and what a planet for the 99% would take.
The most comprehensive study of global climate inequality ever undertaken dropped last week and Oxfam’s new ‘Make rich polluters pay’ campaign has it all. A forward from Greta Thunberg, a joint Guardian investigation with a striking front page splash, inspiring stories of activists fighting back, and so many killer stats that the methodology note is 30 pages long.
Over the next four bulletins we’ll be looking at the numbers behind the different forms of climate inequality: emissions, impacts, and ability and responsibility to respond, finishing off with a special on what it would take create an economy for the 99%.
This week we start with the latest data on the inequality of emissions.
Climate inequality in numbers
Rich countries have a deep historical responsibility for climate breakdown, that’s well documented —the Global North is responsible for 92% of excess global CO2 emissions. The role of rich individuals is less well known, and so that’s what we’re focusing on.
Headline stat. Oxfam and SEI’s research reveals that the top 1% by income were responsible for 16% of global carbon emissions, the same as the emissions of the poorest 66% of humanity (5 billion people).
Top 10%. It’s not just the fat cats whose lifestyle needs to change —the top 10% of earners, those with incomes of above $41,000 (PPP) are responsible for half of global emissions. On average, they emit 24 tonnes of CO2 annually, 8.5 times the amount needed in 2030 to stay below the safe limit of 1.5°C. Over 60% of the richest 10% are from high-income countries.
The famous champaign glass of carbon emissions graph has been updated, a striking representation of this inequality.
Robbing the rest of humanity and future generations. Between 1990 and 2019, the richest 1% depleted 12% of the world’s carbon budget, and the richest 10% were responsible for using up 40%. In the same period, the bottom 50% by income used just 5%.
Gazing into the crystal ball. Limiting long-term global warming to 1.5°C requires a 48% cut in global emissions by 2030 (compared to 2019 levels). The emissions of the super-rich 1% are set to be over 22 times higher 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 one-fifth of the 1.5°C limit.
A focus on the super duper rich: The uber-wealthy are justifiably under the spotlight of this investigation. Working with The Guardian, Oxfam found that 12 billionaires pollute more than 2.1 million homes. The investigation highlights how it’s not just the lavish lifestyles of the private jet-setting, super yacht-owning, pollutocrats that are a source of concern but also their investments. Last year’s Oxfam investigation found that billionaires emit a million times more carbon than the average person and tend to favour investments in heavily polluting industries, like fossil fuels.
The undue influence that the super-rich have over the media, the economy and politics is equally a huge anchor on progress. For example, 1/3 of media has major billionaire ownership. Some haven’t been shy about spreading climate change denialism: 86% of climate change segments on billionaire-owned Fox News were dismissive of climate catastrophe, cast doubt on global warming or employed fearmongering.
Something to read and listen to
A brand new season of Equals podcast kicks off, with new co-host Naf Dabi. The first episode is on climate and equality, interviewing some of the authors of the report. Listen in and please share!
First Dog on the Moon not only manages to sum up a 100-page report in 6 panels but also nailed a day in the life of carbon inequality boffins… we’ve put a Carbon Inequalitometer on our list to Santa.
Hold onto your stomachs, Lauren Sánchez, Jeff Bezos’ fiancé, in Vogue gives a bizarre and surreal glimpse into the life of one the richest couples on earth which is compulsive reading. After all this chat about carbon billionaires, you’ll be relieved to hear that she’s not too worried about their carbon footprint because their super yacht has sails (h/t inequality.org). Riddle me that carbon inequality boffins!