Carbon inequality in 2030: Per capita consumption emissions and the 1.5C goal

The carbon footprints of the richest 1 per cent of people on Earth is set to be 30 times greater than the level compatible with the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement in 2030, according to this new briefing.

In 2015, governments agreed to the goal of limiting global heating to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, but current pledges to reduce emissions fall far short of what is needed. To stay within this guardrail, every person on Earth would need to emit an average of just 2.3 tonnes of COper year by 2030 – this is roughly half the average footprint of every person on Earth today.

This study, commissioned by Oxfam and based on research carried out by IEEP and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), estimates how governments’ pledges will affect the carbon footprints of richer and poorer people around the world. It treats the global population and income groups as if they were a single country. It finds that by 2030:

  • The poorest half of the global population will still emit far below the 1.5°C-aligned level in 2030.
  • The richest 1 per cent and 10 per cent of people are set to exceed this level by 30 times and 9 times respectively.
  • Someone in the richest 1 per cent would need to reduce their emissions by around 97 per cent compared with today to reach this level.

But in a sign that the 2015 Paris Agreement is having some impact, the middle 40 per cent are on course for per capita emissions cuts of 9 per cent from 2015 to 2030. This is a turnaround for a group, which is mostly made up of citizens in middle-income countries like China and South Africa, that saw the fastest per capita emissions growth rates from 1990 to 2015.

Looking at total global emissions, instead of per capita emissions, the richest 1 per cent – fewer people than the population of Germany – are expected to account for 16 per cent of total global emissions by 2030, up from 13 per cent in 1990 and 15 per cent in 2015. The total emissions of the richest 10 per cent alone are set to exceed the 1.5°C-aligned level in 2030, regardless of what the other 90 per cent do.

 The report is also available on the Oxfam website.

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