Richest 1% emit as much pollution as two-thirds of humanity

According to a recent report on climate inequality conducted by Oxfam, the planet-heating carbon emissions generated by the world’s wealthiest surged to 5.9 billion tonnes in 2019 — enough to cause 1.3 million excess deaths due to extreme heat.

Thred Media
4 min readNov 30, 2023

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The richest 1% of humanity are responsible for around the same percentage of global carbon emissions as the 5 billion people who represent the 66% poorest, with dire consequences for vulnerable communities and international efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

This is according to a comprehensive new study published by Oxfam earlier this week, which uncovered that the CO2 generated by the world’s wealthiest surged to 5.9 billion tonnes in 2019, enough to cause more than a million excess deaths due to extreme heat.

The report, titled Climate Equality: A Planet for the 99%, used research conducted by the Stockholm Environment Institute to assess the consumption emissions of different income groups.

It highlights the stark gap between the carbon footprints of the uber-rich (whose lifestyles and investments in polluting industries like fossil fuels are driving global heating) and the rest of the world.

Proving that this elite group — made up of 77 million people including billionaires, millionaires, and those paid more than USD $140,000 (£112,500) a year — is disproportionately contributing to the ecological emergency, Oxfam’s findings underscore the urgent need to address the threat this poses to the wellbeing of society at large.

The charity’s analysis notes that personal consumption varies depending on factors such as location, use of renewable energy, and transport, where this affluent minority contribute substantially more due to their persistent use of private jets and yachts.

It also shows that there is vast inequality in how the impacts of the rapidly changing climate are being felt, with marginalised groups such as women and Indigenous Peoples and low-income countries (those who’ve done the least to cause it) who are suffering the worst consequences.

Not only this, but they are by far the least able to respond and recover.

‘The super-rich are plundering and polluting the planet to the point of destruction and it is those who can least afford it who are paying the highest price,’ said Oxfam’s senior climate justice policy advisor, Chiara Liguori.

‘The huge scale of climate inequality revealed in the report highlights how the two crises are inextricably linked — fuelling one another — and the urgent need to ensure the rising costs of climate change fall on those most responsible and able to pay.’

Coming just a month after a study warned that the world is running out of its carbon budget, which is the net amount of CO2 we have left to emit before we exceed the 1.5C warming threshold, Oxfam states that between 1990 and 2019 the richest 1% depleted 12% of said budget, while the bottom 50% used just 5%.

This inequality, Oxfam argues, could be dealt with by taxing the rich — a move that would bring a ‘significant portion of this excessive wealth and profit back into public hands.’

As the charity’s calculations reveal, specifically introducing a wealth tax, a top income tax, and a windfall corporate profits tax would be enough to raise more than US $9 trillion, a huge amount that could be reinvested in green infrastructure and programmes to fight poverty across the globe.

‘Not taxing wealth allows the richest to rob from us, ruin our planet and renege on democracy,’ said Oxfam’s interim executive director, Amitabh Behar.

‘Taxing extreme wealth transforms our chances to tackle both inequality and the climate crisis. These are trillions of dollars at stake to invest in dynamic 21st-century green governments, but also to re-inject into our democracies.’

‘For years we’ve fought to end the era of fossil fuels to save millions of lives and our planet. It’s clearer than ever this will be impossible until we, too, end the era of extreme wealth.’

Originally written by Sofia Phillips for Thred.

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