- Carbon emissions of richest 1% surged to 16% of world’s total CO2 emissions in 2019.
- Their carbon emissions are enough to cause 1.3 million excess deaths due to heat.
- Fairly taxing the super-rich would help curb both climate change and inequality.
The richest 1% of the world’s population produced as much carbon pollution in 2019 as the five billion people who made up the poorest two-thirds of humanity, reveals a new report from Oxfam, a global organization fighting inequality to end poverty and injustice. 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% will cause 1.3 million excess heat-related deaths around the world, roughly equivalent to the population of Dublin, Ireland or Dallas, Texas. Most of these deaths will occur between 2020 and 2030. The richest 1% in the United States alone will cause more than one-tenth of these global heat-related excess deaths.
“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.”
“Climate Equality: A Planet for the 99%” is based on research conducted with 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% (77 million people) were responsible for 16% of global consumption emissions in 2019—more than all car and road transport emissions. The richest 10% accounted for half (50%) of emissions.
- It would take approximately 1,500 years for someone in the bottom 99% to produce as much carbon as the richest billionaires do in a year.
- Every year, the emissions of the richest 1% cancel out the carbon savings coming from nearly one million wind turbines.
- Since the 1990s, the richest 1% have used up twice as much of the carbon we have left to burn without increasing global temperatures above the
- The carbon emissions of richest 1% are set to be 22 times greater than the level compatible with the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement in 2030.
In the United States, Oxfam research reveals that a person in the top 1% emits 25 times as much carbon pollution as a person in the bottom 50%. Additionally, while people in the bottom 50% of income reduced their emissions by more than a fifth over the past 30 years, those in the top 1% have not reduced their average emissions at all.
“These alarming global trends, starkly evident in the United States, demand our immediate attention,” said Abby Maxman, Oxfam America’s President and CEO. “American billionaires and the super-rich aren’t just deepening the chasm of inequality—they are actively accelerating it. The ultra wealthy continue to pollute without restraint, causing irreversible damage, and blatantly ignore the need to reduce their emissions.”
“We need decisive, bold action at COP28 and beyond to ensure that those with the greatest capacity to harm our planet are also the ones held most accountable for its preservation,” Maxman continued. “Our planet’s future, and indeed our own, depends on it.”
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 countries with a high level of inequality. 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% tax on the incomes of the richest 1% 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. Taxes on wealth, excess profits and on investments in polluting industries would also raise critically needed resources and help reduce emissions.
“We must make the connection explicitly,” said Behar. “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.”
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% (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.
Notes to editors
- Download the report “Climate Equality: A Planet for the 99%,” the executive summary, and the methodology note. The Stockholm Environment Institute’s Emissions Inequality Dashboard is also available for consultation.
- Oxfam has launched a global petition to Make Rich Polluters Pay.
- Dublin’s population is 1.4 million, according to Ireland’s Central Statistics Office and the population of Dallas, Texas is 1.3 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
- According to Our World in Data, road transport accounts for 15% of total CO2 emissions.
- According to SEI’s research, a person in the bottom 99% emits on average 4.1 tons of carbon a year. Richard Wilk and Beatriz Barros’ study of 20 of the world’s billionaires found that they emitted on average 8,194 tons CO2 equivalent per year. This includes all greenhouse gases, so when converted to CO2, this is approximately 5,959 tons CO2. 5,959 divided by 4.1 is 1,453.
- Oxfam’s research has shown that the investments of just 125 billionaires emit 393 million tonnes of CO2e each year —the equivalent of France— at an individual annual average that is a million times higher than someone in the bottom 90% of humanity.
- Oxfam water engineers are having to drill deeper, more expensive and harder-to-maintain water boreholes used by some of the poorest communities around the world, more often now only to find dry, depleted or polluted reservoirs. One in five water boreholes Oxfam digs now is dry or unfit for humans to drink.
- According to the UN, more than 91% of deaths caused by climate- and weather-related disasters over the past 50 years occurred in the Global South. Evidence shows that inequalities between rich and Global South countries are already 25% larger than they would be in a world without global warming.
- The World Bank has proposed to set a minimum standard of prosperity at $25 per day.