Wealthiest Brits have a carbon footprint 11 times that of someone in the poorest half of society

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The wealthiest 1 per cent of people in the UK each produce 11 times the amount of carbon emissions of someone in the poorest half of the population, according to estimates released by Oxfam today ahead of an international climate event hosted by the Prime Minister. Their carbon footprint is 6 times that of the national average.

Those in the wealthiest 10 per cent – with income after tax of at least £41,000 per year – have a carbon footprint that is more than double the national average and four times that of someone in the poorest half.

Oxfam and the Stockholm Environment Institute analysed the carbon emissions of income groups around the world, including the in UK, over 25 years. It found the richest 10 per cent of Brits were responsible for over a quarter (27 per cent) of the total emissions accumulated over this period – roughly the same as the poorest 50 per cent (28 per cent). The richest 1 per cent – 657,840 people roughly equivalent to the population of Sheffield – were responsible for 7 per cent of the pollution.

The Prime Minister is preparing to host the Climate Ambition Summit on 12 December, marking the fifth anniversary of the landmark Paris Agreement signed by over 190 countries which commits to limiting the global average temperature rise to well below 2°C, and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. Following the announcement of the UK’s emission reduction target to 2030, the EU and other nations are also expected to announce new targets in the next few days.

Danny Sriskandarajah, Chief Executive of Oxfam GB, said: “In the UK and around the world we see the same picture – a minority of elite emitters produce far more carbon than poorer communities. Extreme weather and record temperatures are forcing people from their homes and destroying their crops. It can’t be right that the poorest people in the world are being forced to pay the bill run up by the wealthiest.

“It is vital that our recovery from COVID-19 not only sets the UK on track to net zero emissions, but also rebalances our economy and society, so that the benefits of new green jobs, improved health and cleaner air are enjoyed by all. As the host of pivotal UN climate talks, it’s vital the UK Government drives ambitious new emission reduction commitments, and an increase in support to help developing countries cope with climate change.”

Climate change is affecting millions of the world’s poorest people, right now. More frequent and extreme weather is destroying homes and wrecking lives. A recent UN report found that extreme weather events have increased dramatically in the last 20 years.

Oxfam’s analysis showed the wealthiest 1 per cent were the only group in the UK whose total consumption emissions remained stable between 1990 and 2015. All other income groups reduced their carbon footprint over the period, while emissions across the population as a whole fell by 12 per cent.

Other studies have shown the fall in overall emissions was partly a result of a shift to cleaner fuels for generating electricity and away from coal, and improved energy efficiency in homes and businesses. A recent study showed that flights and road transport account for the biggest share – almost 50 per cent – of the emissions of the UK’s wealthiest 10 per cent.

Oxfam is calling on the UK Government, as host of the UN climate summit, to use every diplomatic effort to encourage countries to close the gap between existing emission reduction targets and those needed to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5°C. Oxfam is also calling on the UK to ensure there is an urgent and significant scale up of financial support to developing communities on the frontline of the climate crisis.

In its domestic policy, the UK should also address carbon inequality by curbing the emissions of the highest earners through higher taxes on SUVs and private jets, for example, while ensuring that lower earners can share in the benefits of climate action such as green jobs, cleaner air, improved health, reduced fuel poverty and more liveable cities.


Notes to editors:

More detail about the Climate Ambition Summit on 12 December: https://enb.iisd.org/climate/ambition-summit-2020/?&utm_source=enb.iisd.org&utm_medium=feed&utm_content=2020-11-18&utm_campaign=RSS2.0

To be in the top 1 per cent in the UK in 2015, a person would need income of at least £92,000 per year after tax, or £41,000 after tax to be in the top 10 per cent.

‘Average carbon footprint’ refers to per capita emissions – the total emissions of a particular income group divided by the number of people. All of the calculations are based on estimates of consumption emissions from fossil fuels between 1990 and 2015: emissions consumed within the UK including those embodied in imports but excluding those embodied in exports.

National consumption emissions were divided between individual households based on the latest income distribution datasets and a functional relationship between emissions and income. This assumes, on the basis of numerous studies, that emissions rise in proportion to income above a minimum emissions floor and until a maximum emissions ceiling.

The UK Government report accounting for the drop in UK carbon emissions since 1990 (p.5): https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/875485/2019_UK_greenhouse_gas_emissions_provisional_figures_statistical_release.pdf

The study that found that flights and road transport account for almost half the carbon footprint of the richest 10 per cent https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/F1ED4F705AF1C6C1FCAD477398353DC2/S2059479820000125a.pdf/unequal_distribution_of_household_carbon_footprints_in_europe_and_its_link_to_sustainability.pdf

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