The difference between the carbon emissions of the rich and the poor within a country is now larger than the differences in emissions between countries, the data shows.
The finding is further evidence of the growing divide between the “polluting elite” of the wealthy worldwide, and the relatively low responsibility for emissions among the rest of the population.
It also shows that there is plenty of room for the world’s poorest to increase their greenhouse gas emissions if necessary to achieve prosperity, if the world’s rich people, including some in developing countries, reduce theirs, according to the analysis.
Most global climate policy has focused on the difference between developed and developing countries, and their current and historical responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions. Aim a growing body of work suggests that a “polluting elite” of those with the highest incomes globally far exceed the emissions of the poor.
This has profound consequences for climate action, as it shows that low-income people within developed countries are contributing less to the climate crisis, while the rich in developing countries have a much larger carbon footprint than was previously recognized.
In a report titled Climate Inequality Report 2023, economists from the World Inequality Lab look at where carbon emissions are currently coming from. The World Inequality Lab is co-led by influential economist Thomas Pikettythe author of Capital in the 21st Century, whose work in the aftermath of the financial crisis more than a decade ago helped popularize the idea of “the 1%,” a global high-income group whose interests are furthered by the current economic climate . systems
The report found that “carbon inequalities within countries now appear to be greater than carbon inequalities between countries. The consumption and investment patterns of a relatively small group of the population contribute directly or indirectly disproportionately to greenhouse gases. While emissions inequalities between countries remain sizeable, the overall inequality in global emissions is now largely explained by inequalities within countries by some indicators.
The report also found that while overseas climate aid, a key focus of the recent Cop27 climate negotiations, would be necessary to help developing countries reduce their emissions, it would not be enough and developing countries also needed to reform their systems. national prosecutors to redistribute more. of the rich
The authors suggest that windfall taxes on excess profits could help finance low-carbon investments, as well as progressive taxes in countries, including developing countries, that often tax wealthy citizens and businesses.
Large emerging economies such as China now bear an increasing responsibility for carbon dioxide stocks in the atmosphere, the report added. Now they must produce clear plans to reach net zero emissions.
Peter Newell, professor of international relations at the University of Sussex, who has worked extensively on the issue of the polluting eliteand was not involved in the report, said it showed that consumption patterns needed to change to deal with the climate crisis.
“Emission inequalities matter because carbon inequality within countries accounts for the largest share of global carbon emissions. those who generate emissions and those who suffer the worst effects of global warming and who have less adaptive capacity”, he said.
“The consumption and investment patterns of the polluting elite, which drive these unequal contributions to climate change, must be reduced and redirected respectively. This is a great challenge.”
But he added that the report also showed how global poverty could be tackled without increasing greenhouse gas emissions overall, a key point as the world must cut emissions in half by 2030 to limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5°C above pre-industrial times. levels
Newell told The Guardian: “[The report shows that] tackling global poverty will not exceed global carbon budgets, as is often claimed. If the power and privilege of the will of the polluting elite is not addressed. These are related because reducing carbon consumption at the top can free up carbon space to lift people out of poverty.”
The solutions, he said, lie in changing government policy to focus on the polluting elite and devising a more equitable and efficient approach to emissions cuts.
“Combinations of progressive taxation, even on highly polluting activities, and the redistribution of fossil fuel subsidies can help strengthen the welfare state and provide social protection to help close some of these gaps,” he said.
“This critical report once again underscores the need for a just transition to a low carbon economy that reflects the unequal responsibility for causing the climate crisis and the unequal ability to help address it.”
last year an article from the PIK Potsdam Institute for Climate Researchco-authored with Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, he found that taxing the rich was one of the best ways to finance a shift to a low-carbon economy.