DUBAI – The richest 1 percent of the world’s population produced as much carbon pollution in 2019 than the five billion people who made up the poorest two-thirds of humanity, reveals a new Oxfam report today. It comes ahead of the UN climate summit in Dubai, amid growing fears that the 1.5°C target for curtailing rising temperatures appears increasingly unachievable.
These outsized emissions of the richest 1 percent will cause 1.3 million heat-related excess deaths, roughly equivalent to the population of Dublin, Ireland. Most of these deaths will occur between 2020 and 2030.
“The super-rich are plundering and polluting the planet to the point of destruction, leaving humanity choking on extreme heat, floods and drought,” said Oxfam International interim Executive Director Amitabh Behar.
“For years we’ve fought to end the era of fossil fuels to save millions of lives and our planet. It’s clearer than ever this will be impossible until we, too, end the era of extreme wealth,” said Behar.
“Climate Equality: A Planet for the 99%” draws on research by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and assesses the consumption emissions of different income groups in 2019, the most recent year for which data are available. The report shows 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 bulk of people across the world.
- The richest 1 percent (77 million people) were responsible for 16 percent of global consumption emissions in 2019 —more than all car and road transport emissions. The richest 10 percent accounted for half (50 percent) of emissions.
- It would take about 1,500 years for someone in the bottom 99 percent to produce as much carbon as the richest billionaires do in a year.
- Every year, the emissions of the richest 1 percent cancel out the carbon savings coming from nearly one million wind turbines.
- Since the 1990s, the richest 1 percent have used up twice as much of the carbon we have left to burn without increasing global temperatures above the safe limit of 1.5°C than the poorest half of humanity.
- The carbon emissions of richest 1 percent are set to be 22 times greater than the level compatible with the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement in 2030.
Climate breakdown and inequality are locked in a vicious cycle —Oxfam has seen first-hand how people living in poverty, women and girls, Indigenous communities and Global South countries are feeling the unequal brunt of climate impacts, which in turn increase the divide. The report finds that seven times more people die from floods in more unequal countries. Climate change is already worsening inequality both between and within countries.
Governments can tackle the twin crises of inequality and climate change by targeting the excessive emissions of the super-rich, and investing in public services and meeting climate goals. Oxfam calculates that a 60 percent tax on the incomes of the richest 1 percent would cut emissions by more than the total emissions of the UK and raise $6.4 trillion a year to pay for the transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
“We must make the connection explicitly. Not taxing wealth allows the richest to rob from us, ruin our planet and renege on democracy. Taxing extreme wealth transforms our chances to tackle both inequality and the climate crisis. These are trillions of dollars at stake to invest in dynamic 21st century green governments, but also to re-inject into our democracies,” said Behar.
Oxfam is calling on governments to:
- Dramatically reduce inequality. Oxfam calculates that it would be possible, through a global redistribution of incomes, to provide everyone living in poverty with a minimum daily income of $25 while still reducing global emissions by 10 percent (roughly the equivalent of the total emissions of the European Union).
- Get off fossil fuels quickly and fairly. Rich countries are disproportionately responsible for global warming and must end oil and gas production correspondingly faster. New taxes on corporations and billionaires could help pay for the transition to renewable energy.
- Prioritize human and planetary well-being over endless profit, extraction and consumption. Stop using GDP growth as the measure of human progress.