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Richest 1% generate as much carbon pollution as two-thirds of the planet

A new report from Oxfam has highlighted significant disparities in carbon emissions: the wealthiest percent of the world’s population produce as much pollution as five billion of those on a lower income.

The report, which was published this morning, has outlined that outsized emissions of the richest 1% will cause 1.3 million heat-related excess deaths, roughly equivalent to the population of Dublin, by 2030.

woman holding Planet over Profit placard

‘The super-rich are plundering and polluting the planet to the point of destruction and it is those who can least afford it who are paying the highest price’, said Amitabh Behar, Oxfam International interim executive director. ‘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.’

The report’s key findings include:

  • Since the 1990s, the richest 1% have burned through more than twice as much carbon as the bottom half of humanity
  • The carbon emissions of the richest 1% are set to be 22 times greater than the level compatible with the 1.5C goal of the Paris Agreement in 2030
  • In contrast, the emissions of the poorest half of the global population are set to remain at one-fifth of the 1.5C compatible level
  • Every year, emissions of the 1% cancel out the carbon savings coming from nearly one million wind turbines
  • The death toll from floods is seven times higher in the most unequal countries compared to more equal ones
  • The richest 10% account for half of emissions

Findings from Oxfam, which can be found in full here, have been published a mere two weeks before the 28th United Nations Climate Summit (COP28) in Dubai where world leaders will gather to discuss the impacts of the climate crisis and set targets to combat it.

Experts that were involved in gathering data for the report said they studied the consumption patterns of different income groups, their lifestyles, and investments. Following this, they said inequality and the climate crisis are ‘inextricably linked’ and ‘fuelling one another’.

Behar said: ‘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.’

Against this backdrop, Oxfam also calculated that a global 60% tax on the incomes of the richest 1% would cut emissions by more than the total emissions of the UK and raise £5.2 trillion ($6.4 trillion) a year to pay for the transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

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