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Key figure: 1%

The richest 1% of the world’s population emit twice as much CO2 as half of the world’s poorest. This was one of the conclusions of the report published by Oxfam and the Stockholm Environmental Institute (SEI) on 21 September, titled “Combating COemission inequalities”.


This report focuses on the period 1990-2015 during which annual CO2 emissions soared (+ 60%) and more especially on the emissions of 117 countries, taking into account both emissions from consumption and those linked to the import of goods and services.

Among its main conclusions are: the richest 10% of the world’s population were responsible for 52% of total CO2 emissions during this period. They consumed a third of the planet’s carbon budget, that is to say the maximum emissions to keep within the threshold of + 1.5°C set by the Paris Agreement. In comparison, the poorest 50% were responsible for only 7% of emissions, meaning 4% of the world’s carbon budget.

All these figures raise the question of climate justice: who pays and who should pay the cost of climate change?

According to Tim Gore, responsible for climate policy at Oxfam and author of the report:

“The overconsumption of a minority fuels the climate crisis, but it’s the poor communities and the young who pay the full price”.

The report also sheds light on, and disputes, the accepted idea that it is the fast and considerable rise of the middle classes in India and China that is the main cause for the increase in CO2 emissions. Indeed, the increase of carbon gas discharges of these populations is proportionally comparable to the increase of the emissions by the richest.

The report’s authors made recommendations, criticising the dual problems of injustice and the climate crisis. They suggest aiming at the emissions of the richest, which increase much faster than those of the rest of the population, by taxing the modes of transport that emit the most greenhouse gases. The richest 10%, i.e. those who earn more than $35,000 a year, are responsible for 46% of the increase in emissions over the last 25 years (versus + 6% for the poorest 50%). To this must be added, on the other hand, more investment to the benefit of the poorest populations, since climate inequalities are closely linked to social inequalities.

Ban Ki-moon, a former UN general secretary, asserted that “the COVID-19 pandemic represents an indisputable priority for better rebuilding and placing the world economy on a more sustainable, resilient and fair basis”. Several voices joined in this appeal to governments to seize the opportunity represented by the slowdown of our economies confronted by the coronavirus. Many of them consider that it should represent a historic turning point towards fairer transition.

It remains to be seen whether leaders will opt to take this direction.

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