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Climate change and the rich

February 6, 2023

The wealthy are responsible for far more greenhouse gas emissions than poorer people. To reduce carbon footprints and prevent the worst effects of the climate crisis, one climate researcher is proposing a CO2 cap and trade system for individuals.


Disasters such as droughts, fires, and floods are occurring all over the world, triggered by the climate crisis. To counteract this catastrophe, Germany is among many nations pledging to slow global warming at well below two degrees. To achieve this target, the amount of harmful carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere must be restricted in the coming decades. If a fundamental principle of justice were applied, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research says that each person would be allowed to emit no more than three tons of CO2 per year by 2050. But Germans are a long way from achieving this target, with an average carbon footprint of eight to ten tons. By burning fossil fuels, many millionaires emit more than 100 tons of carbon dioxide per year, and the world’s wealthiest individuals emit thousands of tons each. Most of the rich protagonists in this film show no willingness to reduce their climate-damaging behavior. One of them flies in a private jet, while another drives a gas-guzzling sports car for fun. Schellnhuber, a renowned scientist, is therefore calling for a carbon cap to be imposed on individuals, while allowing private trading in CO2 credits. He proposes that each person receives an allowance of three tons of CO2 per year. Those who need more would have to buy from those who consume less, Schellnhuber suggests. However, German Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck from the Green Party is not in favor of individual CO2 caps. In an interview, Habeck says he’s not focused on the question of "individual budgets.”

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