What’s Going On Here?

Ending extreme poverty, in which hundreds of millions of people live on less than US$1.90 a day, would only mean a rise of global emissions of less than 1%, a new report has revealed.

The research, from Nature Sustainability, highlights the extreme difference in how much people in high income countries emit compared to those in low income countries. It uses what it calls “outstandingly detailed” global expenditure data.

What Does This Mean?

According to one finding in the report, the average carbon footprint for someone living in sub-Saharan Africa is 0.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide (tCO2). In the US, it’s more than 24 times that amount, at 14.5 tonnes.

The paper’s lead author called the inequality “just insane”, with the top 1% of emitters’ average carbon footprint more than 75 times higher than that of the bottom 50%. 

It highlights how if we’re to limit global warming to between 1.5C and 2C above pre-industrial levels, the world needs to reach an average carbon footprint of between 1.6 and 2.8 tCO2 in the coming decade. That means the US has to bring down its average footprint by at least 80%.

Compare that to someone living in sub-Saharan Africa, India or South and Southeast Asia, whose average carbon footprint is at least 0.3 of a tonne below where we need to be.

Why Should We Care? 

The first UN Sustainable Development Goal focuses on ending extreme poverty everywhere. With up to 124 million people pushed back into this bracket in 2020, that target has taken on renewed urgency.

So with these new findings, Yale School of Environment’s Dr Narasimha Rao says the study shows that meeting this goal “is not a concern for climate mitigation”.

But the research also clears up any confusion about who bears the most responsibility for getting the world out of the climate crisis: high income countries – and especially the super rich, who fall into the extravagant 1%.

As Mercator Research Institute’s Dr Wiliam Lamb told Carbon Brief

“In the public conversation on climate change, we often hear that actions taken in Europe or the US are meaningless when compared to the industrial emissions of China, or the effects of rapid population growth in Africa. This paper exposes these claims as wilfully ignorant, at best. By far the worst polluters are the super-rich, most of whom live in high income countries.”

Be Curious!

  • Read the full Nature Sustainability piece here
  • Get Carbon Brief’s breakdown here
  • In 2020 we covered a study that confirmed the richest are responsible for the majority of emissions

Show CommentsClose Comments

Leave a comment