As part of the Climate Desk partnership, this article was originally published by the Guardian and is being reprinted here.
According to research, the gap between the carbon emissions of the wealthy and the poor inside a nation is now larger than the gap between emissions within nations.
The study is another proof of the widening gap between the polluting elite of wealthy people around the world and the rest of society’s comparatively low emission-related culpability.
It also demonstrates that there is plenty of room for the world’s poorest people to increase their greenhouse gas emissions in order to achieve wealth, if rich people around the world, including some in emerging nations, do the same.
The majority of global climate policy has concentrated on the distinction between industrialized and developing countries, as well as on their present and past greenhouse gas emission responsibilities.
However, a rising body of research indicates that the emissions produced by a polluting elite of those with the greatest incomes worldwide far surpass those produced by the poor.
This has significant ramifications for climate action since it demonstrates that while wealthy individuals in developing nations have far larger carbon footprints than was previously recognized, low-income individuals in industrialized countries are contributing to the climate catastrophe less.
The World Inequality Lab’s economists analyze the existing sources of carbon emissions in a paper titled Climate Inequality Report 2023. Thomas Piketty, an influential economist and the author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, co-directs the World Inequality Lab.
His work after the financial crisis more than ten years ago helped popularise the concept of the 1%, a global high-income group whose interests are supported by current economic systems.
According to the analysis, carbon disparities within nations now seem to be larger than those between nations. A relatively tiny part of the population’s purchasing and investing habits directly or indirectly contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.
While there are still significant cross-country differences in emissions, certain measures suggest that within-country differences now account for the majority of the variance in global emissions.
The analysis also discovered that although domestic tax reform and the redistribution of wealth from the wealthy were both necessary for developing nations to cut their emissions, international climate aid, which was a major emphasis of the recent Cop27 climate negotiations, would not be sufficient.
The authors propose progressive taxation in nations, including developing nations, which frequently undertax wealthy residents and businesses, as well as windfall taxes on surplus profits to help finance low-carbon investment.
According to the paper, large growing economies like China now have a greater share of the blame for the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. They are now required to present detailed plans for achieving net zero emissions.
Professor of international relations at the University of Sussex, Peter Newell, who has published much on the subject of the polluting elite and was not involved in the investigation, said it demonstrated the need for altered consumption habits to address the climate crisis.
According to him, emissions inequality between those creating the emissions and those experiencing the greatest consequences of global warming and who have the least capacity to adapt is important because it accounts for the majority of global emissions inequality.
It is necessary to shift the polluter elite’s consumption and investment patterns in order to lessen and divert their separate contributions to climate change. This is a really difficult task.
However, he continued, the report also demonstrated how combating global poverty could be accomplished without raising overall greenhouse gas emissions, a crucial point given that the world must cut emissions by roughly half by 2030 in order to keep global temperature increases to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
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According to Newell, “tackling global poverty will not overrun global carbon budgets, as is sometimes asserted,” according to the Guardian. Failure to address the privilege and power of the elite polluters will. These are connected because cutting back on carbon emissions at the top can provide carbon space that can be used to help the poor.
According to him, the answers lie in reorienting government policy to target the polluting elite and developing a more egalitarian and effective strategy for reducing emissions.
In order to close some of these gaps, he suggested combining progressive taxes, including on highly polluting activities, with the redirection of fossil fuel subsidies. This would assist to enhance the welfare state and offer social security.
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This important analysis highlights the necessity of a just transition to a low-carbon economy, which reflects disproportionate blame for the climate crisis’ cause and unequal ability to address it.
One of the greatest methods to finance the transition to a low-carbon economy, according to a paper published by the PIK Potsdam Institute for Climate Research last year and coauthored by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, is to tax the wealthy.