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World's richest 1% threaten Paris climate goal: report

Alex Berry
November 5, 2021

Carbon consumption by the world's richest individuals is set to continue driving high carbon emissions, according to a new Oxfam report.

 Luxury boats seen during the Monaco Yacht Show
The world's richest are expected to make miniscule carbon reductions, threatening any chances of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees celciusImage: Eric Gaillard/REUTERS

The world's richest 1% is set to be responsible for 16% of global carbon emissions by 2030, a report published Friday by Oxfam and the Stockholm Environment Institute revealed.

Such consumption patterns could risk heating the planet beyond the 1.5 degrees Celsius set by the Paris climate agreement,

"Maintaining such high carbon footprints among the world's richest people either requires far deeper emissions cuts by the rest of the world's population, or it entails global heating in excess of 1.5⁰C above pre-industrial levels," the report stated. "There is no other alternative."

The report was presented at the ongoing COP26 climate talks in Glasgow. 

What the Oxfam report said in detail

The report looked at carbon inequality and the role that the wealthiest individuals in the world play in global warming.

It estimated that between 1990 and 2015 "the consumption of the world's richest 1% drove twice the carbon emissions of the poorest half of the global population combined."

According to the report, the carbon footprint of the around 80 million people who make up the world's richest elite will be 25% higher in 2030 than in 1990.

It will also be 30 times higher than the per capita emissions permissible to remain below the 1.5 degrees of warming (since the industrial revolution) that was agreed on in the 2015 Paris agreement.

The report set a limit of 2.3 tons of CO2 emissions per person per year by 2030 to keep warming to below 1.5 degrees. The wealthiest 1% are set to produce around 70 tons, with the richest 10% (around 800 million people) set to emit over 20 tons by 2030.

"A tiny elite appear to have a free pass to pollute," said Nafkote Dabi, Climate Policy Lead at Oxfam.

At the same time, the 4 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world's population will see their carbon emissions remain well below the per capita limit.

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In total, the global per capita average will still be 2.2 tons of CO2 more than it should be.

The global middle class, the 40% between the richest and the poorest, are set to cut their emissions the most, but still far from what is necessary.

While the 1% will see some emissions cuts, according to the research in the report, this will likely only amount to around 5% by 2030.

The report also found that the geography of carbon inequality will change, predicting that China's wealthy elite will overtake that of the US in terms of carbon emissions by 2030.