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Thursday 21 September 2023 Dublin: 13°C
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# Climate Change
Richest 1% of world's population 'responsible for more than double the carbon pollution of poorest half'
In Ireland, the richest 10% of the population emits nearly the same emissions as the bottom 50%.

THE RICHEST 1% of the world’s population are responsible for more than double the carbon pollution of the poorest half of humanity, new research has found.

In Ireland, the richest 10% of the Irish population emits nearly as much consumption emissions as the bottom 50%, despite there being five times more people in the bottom 50% – 2.3 million people compared to around 475,000.

Oxfam’s new report, Confronting Carbon Inequality, is based on research conducted with the Stockholm Environment Institute and is being released as world leaders prepare to meet at the United Nations General Assembly to discuss global challenges including the climate crisis.

The report assesses the global consumption emissions of different income groups between 1990 and 2015 – 25 years when humanity doubled the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The findings included:

The richest 10% accounted for over half (52%) of the emissions added to the atmosphere between 1990 and 2015. The richest 1% were responsible for 15% of emissions during this time – more than all the citizens of the European Union and more than twice that of the 3.1 billion poorest half of humanity (7%).

During this time, the richest 10% blew one third of our remaining global 1.5°C carbon budget, compared to just 4% for the poorest half of the population.

Annual emissions grew by 60% between 1990 and 2015. The richest 5% were responsible for over a third (37%) of this growth. The total increase in emissions of the richest 1% was three times more than that of the poorest 50%.

In Ireland, the findings based on 2015 data found:

The top 10% of the Irish population by income levels, emit over a quarter (26%) of consumption emissions, the middle 40% emits less than half (45%) of emissions, while the bottom 50% emits 29% of emissions. Shares among these income groups have not changed markedly over the period 1990-2015, the report notes.

The top 10% contributed about one-third of the cumulative carbon emissions between 1990 and 2015 – almost as much as the bottom 50% (28% compared to 29%).

The top 1% has almost 13 times the average per capita carbon footprint of the bottom half of Irish citizens (66 tCO2 compared to 5 tCO2). “To put this in perspective we need to reach an average per capita carbon footprint of just 2.1 tCO2 by 2030 to achieve our Paris Agreement commitments and keep global heating on track to reach just 1.5°C,” the report notes.

Heatwaves and wildfires 

Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland, said the research “highlights the need for governments, including our own, to confront extreme carbon inequality”.

“Until we do that, a wealthy minority will continue to enjoy the luxuries of over-consumption, fuelling the climate crisis at the expense of poor communities and our young people.”

Clarken noted that so far in 2020, climate change has already “fuelled deadly cyclones in India and Bangladesh, huge locust swarms that have devastated crops across Africa and unprecedented heatwaves and wildfires across Australia and the US”, adding:

No one is immune but it is the poorest and most marginalised people who are hardest hit.

He said rebooting “outdated, unfair, and polluting pre-Covid economies is no longer a viable option”.

Oxfam Ireland is calling on the Irish government to consider implementing a number of recommendations in the forthcoming budget, including:

  • Ensuring all climate actions are equality-proofed and mechanisms are in place to offset the significant negative impact of climate action on low-income groups
  • Introduce focused policy measures targeting excessive and luxury emissions
  • End tax breaks for aircraft fuel and explore mechanisms to discourage frequent fliers
  • Ending government bailouts and subsidies for sectors associated with luxury carbon consumption, and investment expanded in low carbon sectors like health and social care
  • Designing new job guarantees for those sectors of the economy that will be most impacted by the transition to a post-carbon future

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