Carbon inequality and why the super-rich need to change

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Over the past 25 years, the richest 10% of the global population has been responsible for more than half of all carbon emissions… Rank injustice and inequality on this scale is a cancer. If we don’t act now, this century may be our last.

Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General

The world’s rich consume and consume and consume with no thought.

Patricia Espinosa, UN Executive Secretary, UNFCCC

Think superyachts, private jets and, now, trips into space

The world’s richest 1% are set to have per capita consumption emissions in 2030 that are still 30 times higher than the global per capita level compatible with the 1.5⁰C goal of the Paris Agreement, while the footprints of the poorest half of the world population are set to remain several times below that level. By 2030, the richest
1% are on course for an even greater share of total global emissions than when the Paris Agreement was signed. Tackling extreme inequality and targeting the excessive emissions linked to the consumption and investments of the world’s richest people is vital to keeping the 1.5⁰C Paris goal alive.

By 2030, the richest 1% of the world population (c.80 million people) will have emissions footprints that are still 25% higher than in 1990, 16 times above the
global per capita average in 2030, and some 30 times higher than the global 1.5⁰C-compatible per capita level.

How do the world’s richest people generate such high carbon footprints?

Estimating the carbon footprints of the world’s richest people is no easy task. While there are robust methods to estimate individual footprints by applying carbon emissions coefficients to the goods and
services reported in household surveys, these are widely recognized to under-represent the consumption of the world’s richest citizens. However, a number of recent studies shine new light on this question,
helping to confirm estimates of the extent of high-income emissions. Wilk and Barros drew on 82 databases of public records to document billionaires’ houses, vehicles, aircraft, and yachts. Applying carbon coefficients, they found billionaire carbon footprints easily run to thousands of tonnes per year, with superyachts the biggest contributor, each adding around 7,000 tonnes per year, for

Earlier studies also established the major contribution to carbon footprints of the rich and famous from flights, especially via private jets. Gösling’s study constructed aviation emissions estimates based on tracking the international travel of celebrities via their social media postings. Footprints – from aviation alone – were found to be in excess of a thousand tonnes per year. Most egregiously, 2021 has heralded the dawn of a new form of hyper-carbon-intensive luxury travel, space tourism, in which hundreds of tonnes of carbon can be burned in just a ten-minute flight for around
four passengers.

Outside the mega-rich, numerous studies have identified transport as the biggest contributor to the footprints of high emitters. For example, Ivanova and Wood found that the majority of emissions of the EU’s
highest emitters are transport-related. Gösling and Humpe found that no more than 1% of the world population likely accounts for half of aviation emissions.

How does this make you feel?

Will the super-rich continue to get away with lecturing the rest of us while they travel from climate conference to neocon think-in in their private jets and superyachts? Let us know in the comments, or get in touch at

Citation: Carbon inequality in 2030: Per capita consumption emissions and the 1.5⁰C goal

Published: 05 November 2021

Author – Gore, Tim

Publishers – Institute for European Environmental Policy, Oxfam

DOI – 10.21201/2021.8274

Learn more

Read the full Oxfam report

The Guardian – Few willing to change lifestyle to save the planet, climate survey finds

Our World in Data – CO2 Emissions

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Graph from Oxfam report.

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