The poorest half of the world suffering the worst impacts of climate change is responsible for just 10 percent of global carbon emissions, while the richest 10 percent spews out half of all emissions, according to a new report released by Oxfam on Wednesday, amid the ongoing COP21 climate summit in Paris.
The findings of the report, “Extreme Carbon Inequality,” highlight the need for world leaders to heed the calls of social movements and pay attention to the vastly unequal contributions to climate change and craft a deal based global climate justice. From this perspective, the responsibility for remedying the climate crisis and helping poorer nations transition falls on rich countries, which have disproportionately fueled climate change through massive consumption and emissions.
“Climate change and economic inequality are inextricably linked and together pose one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century,” Oxfam’s food and climate policy chief Tim Gore said in a statement. “Paris must be the start of building a more human economy for all – not just for the ‘haves,’ the richest and highest emitters, but also the ‘have-nots,’ the poorest people who are the least responsible for and most vulnerable to climate change.”
The report also points out that while poorer developing countries now have the fasting growing rate of emissions, most of the production fuels consumption in richer countries, underlying the global inequalities behind climate change. The consumption-driven lifestyle of those living in wealthy, industrialized countries continues to be the primary culprit of global emissions.
“Climate change and economic inequality are inextricably linked and together pose one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century.”
The inequalities are clear. The report finds that a person in India’s elite 10 percent has a carbon footprint just 25 percent of the size of someone in the poorest half of the U.S. on average.
What’s more, poorer countries are most vulnerable in the face of climate change and expected to bear the brunt of the impacts of increasingly inhospitable climatic conditions and a rise in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like droughts, floods, heatwaves, and superstorms.
Oxfam stressed that while high carbon emitters must be kept in check around the world, rich countries must lead the charge and fulfill their historical climate debts.
“Extreme carbon inequality has to be capped,” said Oxfam’s Gore. “Any deal must keep alive the possibility of holding global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, and provide a major boost in funding to help the poorest and most vulnerable communities adapt to climate change.”
Global South countries such as Ecuador and Bolivia, for example, argue that rich countries should pay climate reparations to financially-strapped countries to help fuel their transitions to clean energy without forcing them to sacrifice the social and redistributive policies that have contributed to lifting the population out of poverty. So far, rich countries have refused to step up.
And as the report highlights, the beneficiaries of a status quo climate deal at COP21 would be the global elite and fossil fuels giants reaping huge profits off destining the world to destruction as climate change runs off the rails.
According to Oxfam, facing head on the underlying problem of economic inequality that climate culprits and “carbon barons” feed on is key not only to addressing extreme poverty, but also tackling climate change.