World's wealthiest 1% 'to blame for more carbon emissions than half the planet combined'

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·Political Correspondent - Yahoo News UK
·4-min read
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VAN HORN, TEXAS - JULY 20: Jeff Bezos laughs as he speaks about his flight on Blue Origin’s New Shepard into space during a press conference on July 20, 2021 in Van Horn, Texas. Mr. Bezos and the crew that flew with him were the first human spaceflight for the company.   (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Jeff Bezos after his flight on Blue Origin’s New Shepard into space in July. Billionaires like Mr Bezos have been lambasted as 'space cowboy billionaires'. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The world's super-rich are responsible for more emissions than more than half the global population, a new report has claimed.

A stark study of carbon emissions by the World Inequality Database (WID) found the richest 1% of people in the world emitted 17% of all carbon emissions - compared to just 12% being emitted by the bottom 50%. 

The biggest emitters over all are the top 10%, responsible for 48% of all emissions. 

The report states that emissions from the top 1% over the last three decades have increased faster than any other group due to the rise in carbon content of their investments and economic inequalities within nations. 

Lucas Chancel, author of the report, said: "Did you know that the space cowboy billionaires of this world can emit more CO2 in a few minutes than people from the 'bottom billion' will in their entire lifetime?"

The global top 1% contribute to 17% of CO2 emissions in a year (World Equality Database, 2021)
The global top 1% contribute to 17% of CO2 emissions in a year (World Equality Database, 2021)

In contrast, the emission levels of the poorest 50% globally only slightly increased from 1.2 tonnes to 1.6 tonnes, and their emissions remain four times below the global average. 

Carbon emissions also varies by country, too. 

Since the Industrial Revolution, North America and Europe have been responsible for around half of all emissions. 

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China, which is now the world's biggest polluter, represents just 11% of historic emissions - with sub-Saharan Africa at 4%.

Another aspect of inequality in CO2 emissions is those hardest hit by its consequences. 

Many of the world's poorest countries, like Haiti, produce few emissions but are bearing the brunt of climate change - in the form of extreme weather events like more powerful hurricanes - but lack the financial ability to create infrastructure to protect themselves. 

In August this year Sonam Wangdi, chair of the UN's Least Developed Countries Group on climate change, told the BBC there is little evidence that plans for developing countries to adapt have been successful. 

"We need to adapt our plans to the worsening climate crisis. Our existing plans are not enough to protect our people," they said. 

In 2020, Oxfam lambasted what it called the "over-consumption" of fossil fuels by the globe's wealthiest after their report on the issue last year.

Tim Gore, head of climate policy at the charity said: “The over-consumption of a wealthy minority is fuelling the climate crisis yet it is poor communities and young people who are paying the price. 

"Such extreme carbon inequality is a direct consequence of our governments decades long pursuit of grossly unequal and carbon intensive economic growth.”

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - OCTOBER 13: A general view of the Scottish Events Centre (SEC) on October 13, 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. COP26 will officially begin on Sunday October 31 with the procedural opening of negotiations and finish on Monday November 12th. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
COP26 runs from 31 October to 12 November 2021 and will be held at the Scottish Events Centre (SEC) in Glasgow (Getty Images)

The WID, which is linked to the Paris School of Economics, makes a variety of recommendations in their report, including: monitoring systems to measure carbon emissions of individuals and their investment portfolios; taxation in the form of "progressive wealth taxes" on the ownership of pollution activities; and the scaling up of investment in low-carbon energy production infrastructures by governments.  

There has been significant debate in recent years over how the race to net zero will disproportionately impact poorer and developing countries - for whom the use of fossil fuels is a key aspect of the economic growth.

In the Paris Agreement, nations agreed to provide $100bn to developing countries to help them reach net zero.

The data comes ahead of COP26 next week, where representatives of nearly 200 countries - including Queen Elizabeth II - will meet to discuss the existential threat of climate change. 

It is expected countries will renew their commitments and strategies to keep global warming under 2C, with a target of 1.5C - as well as hitting net zero by the middle of the century. 

Scientists and campaigners say this is key to prevent mass extinctions, extreme weather events, and mass migration as climate refugees are forced to flee their homes amid rising sea levels, flooding, and droughts. 

However, how successful COP26 will be has been thrown into doubt after one of the world's biggest polluters, Russia, said its president Vladimir Putin would not be attending the summit

And China, which is the world's biggest polluter, has said President Xi Jinping is also unlikely to attend the summit. 

Watch: What is COP26 and how will it affect the future of climate change?

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