The importance of confronting Carbon Inequality

Despite the steep drop in CO2 emissions in 2020 linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis has continued to grow, extreme weather disasters have not stopped during these months - from Cyclone Amphan in India and Bangladesh to wildfires raging in the states. United - serving as a powerful reminder that the world is dangerously close to exceeding the 1.5 ° C target of the Paris agreement: this is what emerges from the research published in recent weeks by Oxfam and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).

From 1990 to 2015, the critical period in which annual emissions grew by 60% and cumulative emissions doubled, it is estimated that:

  1. The richest 10% of the world's population (around 630 million people) is responsible for 52% of cumulative emissions
  2. The poorest 50% of the world population (about 3.1 billion people) is instead responsible for only 7% of cumulative emissions, using only 4% of the available carbon budget
  3. The richest 1% (around 63 million people) alone were responsible for 15% of cumulative emissions and 9% of the carbon budget, double the poorest half
  4. The richest 5% (around 315 million people) were responsible for over a third (37%) of the total growth in emissions

Over the past 20-30 years, the climate crisis has been fueled and our limited global carbon budget has been squandered to increase the consumption of those who are already wealthy, rather than lifting people out of poverty. The two groups that suffer most from this injustice are in fact those least responsible for the climate crisis: the poorest and most marginalized people who already struggle with climate impacts and future generations.

A failure to address extreme carbon inequality at this historic juncture will lead to an unprecedented climate crisis; the pandemic in recent months has shown us that once unthinkable changes in lifestyles, especially in the richest segment of the population, can be adopted in the interest of all: from public policies to the taxation of luxury carbon as for SUVs, frequent business class flights and private jets, expansion of public and digital transport infrastructure, which can reduce emissions, inequalities and increase public welfare.

To limit global warming to 1.5 ° C, global average per capita emissions should be around 2.1 t / year by 2030. Where do we and can we start then?

Governments must put the fight against the dual climate and inequality crisis at the heart of recovery efforts from the COVID-19 pandemic. They have a historical and real opportunity to start building fairer and more sustainable economies, creating decent jobs that people need and strengthening the resilience of the most vulnerable to future shocks, safeguarding our climate for future generations.

In addition to essential measures to rapidly shift energy supplies to sustainable renewables, governments should consider:

  • Wealth taxes - such as sales taxes on SUVs, private jets, or super yachts, or taxes on business class or frequent flights
  • End the tax-exempt status of fuel
  • Public investments, also to create guarantees of decent jobs
  • Create more circular business models
  • Set national science and equity-based targets to reduce carbon emissions
  • Incorporate the principles of social dialogue at all levels to ensure that the transition to a neutral economy, capable of keeping global warming below 1.5 ° C, allows all its members to thrive.


The importance of confronting Carbon Inequality