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Carbon Emission of 1% Super-Rich Imperils 1.5 Degree Celsius Target

The luxury and extravaganza enjoyed by the super-rich is in no way affected by the concerns and pledges made for mitigating climate emergencies at summits like the COP26.

Image Courtesy: vox

The world eagerly looks at the COP26 summit underway at Glasgow, especially for the pledges that would be made by the countries to mitigate the man-made climate emergency. One pivotal issue has been curbing fossil fuel use and reducing carbon footprint, at least to levels decided in the Paris Agreement adopted in 2015.

The associated broader question that has emerged is, who bears the larger share of responsibilities? Do all countries, and all of the human population on Earth share equal obligations even when richer countries and richer populations contribute a larger share of emission?

In this regard, one interesting study commissioned by Oxfam is being seen as important. The study was conducted jointly by Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). It says that the carbon footprint of the world’s richest 1% is proceeding on the track of 30 times higher than what is estimated to meet the 1.5 degree Celsius (C) threshold. On the contrary, emissions of the poorest 50% will be continuing to remain below the goals set for climate mitigation.

This report reflects the stark differences in consumption and emission among different demographics of the world, a testimony of a lopsided contribution to a worsening climate. This report is also important in the context of COP26.

Nafkote Dabi, the climate policy lead at Oxfam, commented, “A tiny elite appear to have a free pass to pollute.”

“Their over-sized emissions are fuelling extreme weather around the world and jeopardising the international goal of limiting global heating,” she added.

If the goals of the Paris Agreement have to be met, then the per capita emission of carbon dioxide has to be reduced to an average of 2.3 tonnes by the year 2030. This amount is about half of the average we have today. The extravagant lifestyles of the rich minority upend this ambitious project which the world needs to undertake at this extremely crucial point of time.

The richest, a minor 1%, are on the track to be releasing 70 tonnes of per capita carbon dioxide in a year with the continuation of the current trend, the study warns. In total, this population will account for 16% of total emissions by 2030, which was 13% in the 1990s. This shows a steady rise in their emission levels. Meanwhile, 50% of the poorest is going to release, on average, one tonne of carbon dioxide in a year.

The global 1%, according to the study, are not only the billionaires or even millionaires but includes anybody who is earning over US $172,000. The study also looked at the 10% of the world’s richest, categorised as anyone who earns over US $55,000. It found that emissions are still high and that the richest 10% are emitting nine times more carbon than the share they have.

“The paper shows that the fight to keep 1.5C within reach is not being hampered by the consumption of most people on the planet, but by the excessive emissions of the world’s richest citizens,” said Tim Gore, author of the study and belongs to the IEEP.

Jamie Livingstone, the Oxfam head of Scotland remarked that “COP26 is a moment of truth in the fight against climate change”. He said that “Global leaders must agree on ways to curb excessive emissions and limit global heating and they must do it here and now in Glasgow. Delay costs lives.”

The luxury and extravaganza of the super-rich is in no way affected by the concerns and pledges made for mitigating climate emergencies. Early this year, American entrepreneur Jeff Bezos cruised to space in his new Shepherd Rocket, so did Richard Branson, who went to the edge of space in the Virgin Galactic Rocket owned by him and we all know what Elon Musk has promised—taking humans to Mars. Study shows that emissions from a space flight for 11 minutes amount to about 75 tonnes. This amount, according to the study, exceeds the lifetime emissions made by the poorest one-billion people on Earth.

The super-rich, characterised by owning multiple private jets, homes and superyachts emit a lot more as a result of their super luxury activities. A recent study tracked air travels made by celebrities via their social media handles and found that some of them emitted over a thousand tonnes in a year.

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