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| 1 minute read

Why the Super Rich Matter in Climate Change

A recent study conducted by The Guardian, Oxfam, and the Stockholm Environment Institute reveals a disturbing truth: the wealthiest 1% of our global population emits more carbon than the poorest 66%. In fact, the wealthiest individuals were responsible for a staggering 16% of all CO2 emissions in 2019. The study delves into the causes and repercussions of this carbon imbalance, shedding light on an issue that demands urgent action.

While the wealthiest 1% lead climate-insulated, air-conditioned lives, their emissions – amounting to 5.9 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2019 – contribute to the suffering among the poorest. Those living in poverty usually lack savings, insurance or social protection and are, therefore more economically and physically vulnerable to the impacts of floods, droughts, heatwaves, and forest fires.

The study's "mortality cost" formula highlights a chilling prospect: emissions from the 1% alone could lead to the heat-related deaths of 1.3 million people in the coming years. This means that for every million tonnes of carbon emitted, there could be an additional 226 deaths worldwide. The consequences of this carbon inequality are severe, posing a direct threat to vulnerable communities and impeding global climate change mitigation efforts.

However, amidst these challenges, there is a ray of hope on the horizon. The upcoming UN COP28 climate summit in the United Arab Emirates aims to address climate justice. Policymakers will explore measures targeting the wealthiest emitters, potentially including taxes on frequent flying and non-green investments.

One staggering statistic from the report underlines the urgency for systemic changes: in France, the richest 1% emit as much carbon in one year as the poorest 50% do in ten years. Oxfam advocates for robust wealth taxes on the super-rich and windfall taxes on fossil fuel companies to support the most affected, reduce inequality, and fund a transition to renewable energy. It says 60% tax on the incomes of the wealthiest 1% could generate $6.4 trillion annually and cut emissions by 695 million tonnes, which is more that the entire 2019 carbon footprint of the UK. The call for action is clear: let's address carbon inequality head-on for a sustainable and equitable future.


The suffering falls disproportionately upon people living in poverty, marginalised ethnic communities, migrants and women and girls, who live and work outside or in homes vulnerable to extreme weather, according to the research. These groups are less likely to have savings, insurance or social protection, which leaves them more economically, as well as physically, at risk from floods, drought, heatwaves and forest fires.


climatechange, culture