Carbon emissions of richest 1% globally more than double those of poorest half of the world

Photo of a woman crossing flood water and carrying a baby

Oxfam Scotland calls on Scottish Government to bolster Scotland’s global climate leadership ahead of COP26 in Glasgow

The carbon emissions of the richest one percent were more than double those of the three billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity during a critical 25-year period of unprecedented emissions growth, according to a new Oxfam report published today.

The report, Confronting Carbon Inequality, is based on research conducted with the Stockholm Environment Institute and is released as world leaders prepare to meet at the UN General Assembly to discuss global challenges including the climate crisis.

It also comes ahead of landmark UN climate talks in Glasgow next year.

The Oxfam report assesses the consumption emissions of different income groups between 1990 and 2015 during which the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubled. It found that globally during this period:

• The richest one percent accounted for 15 percent of emissions – more than twice that of the poorest half of humanity (7 percent). The richest 10 percent (approx. 630 million people) accounted for over half (52 percent) of the carbon dioxide emissions.

• The total increase in emissions of the richest one percent was three times more than the total increase in emissions of the poorest half of the population.

• The richest 10 percent accounted for one third of the carbon emissions that scientists estimate will cause the 1.5C temperature rise triggering catastrophic irreversible climate change, while the poorest half of humanity emitted just four percent.

Oxfam says that if emissions do not keep falling year-on-year and carbon inequality is left unchecked, by 2030 the world could reach the tipping point of 1.5C warming. Carbon inequality is so stark the emissions of just the richest 10 percent would trigger catastrophic climate change by 2033 even if all other emissions were cut to zero.

To coincide with the launch of the briefing, Oxfam Scotland is calling for the Scottish Government to show increased global climate leadership ahead of the critical UN climate talks, known as COP26, due to take place in Glasgow in late 2021.

Currently, Scotland’s emission reduction targets are amongst the strongest in the world, with a legal requirement for Scotland to cut its emissions by 75% from 1990 levels by 2030 and to reach ‘net zero’ by 2045.

However, Scotland’s 2018 emission reduction target was missed. Oxfam Scotland says that ahead of COP26, Scotland must live up to its own ambitious domestic climate promises to reduce emissions while doing more to encourage other countries to do likewise as they set their own revised climate plans.

Oxfam Scotland is also calling on the Scottish Government to do more to reflect Scotland’s role in helping to create and sustain the climate crisis by increasing support to poor countries who are on the frontline of the climate crisis by boosting its Climate Justice Fund from £3 million per year to £10 million per year.

It says all parties must then use next year’s Scottish elections to demonstrate Scotland’s commitment to climate justice runs deeper than ambitious long-term promises.

Jamie Livingstone, Head of Oxfam Scotland, said: “The global climate emergency hasn’t gone away; while the richest people continue to plunder the planet, the peril facing the world’s poorest communities grows ever graver.

“It’s a cruel irony that those who are being hit first and worst by the climate emergency did least to cause it. That’s why the richest people everywhere, including in countries like Scotland, who bear greatest responsibility, have a moral duty to act and to act quickly.

“And while cutting emissions quickly is critical, it is simply unconscionable to leave poor communities to deal with disasters they didn’t create. It cannot be right that our level of financial support for those on the front line of the climate crisis has fallen amid spiralling climate devastation.

“Ahead of COP26, the Scottish Government’s actions must match its words to show a watching world that its commitment to climate action runs deeper than ambitious climate promises.”

Oxfam says that though emissions have fallen sharply in 2020 amid the pandemic, governments should not simply seek to reboot their outdated, unfair and polluting pre-Covid economies. If emissions do not keep falling and carbon inequality is left unchecked the world could smash through the critical 1.5C barrier by 2030.

Oxfam estimates that the per capita emissions of the richest 10 percent will need to be around 10 times lower by 2030 to get on track to keeping global temperatures from rising above 1.5C – which would cut global annual emissions by a third.


For more information and interviews, please contact: Rebecca Lozza, Oxfam Scotland Media and Communications Officer: / 07917738450

Notes to editor

• The media brief Confronting Carbon Inequality and the full research report and data on which is it based is available here:
• In 2015, around half the emissions of the richest 10 percent – people with net income over $38,000 – are linked to citizens in the US and the EU and around a fifth with citizens of China and India. Over a third of the emissions of the richest one percent – people with net income over $109,000 – are linked to citizens in the US, with the next biggest contributions in that group from people living in the Middle East and China. Net incomes are based on income thresholds for 2015 and represented in $2011 Purchasing Power Parity).
• The research is based on estimations of consumption emissions from fossil fuels i.e. emissions consumed within a country including emissions embodied in imports and excluding emissions embodied in exports. More details on the methodology is available in the research report.
• The Scottish Government’s Climate Justice Fund has remained frozen at just £3m a year since 2016; losing value despite spiralling climate devastation. Oxfam Scotland says it should now rise to at least match the International Development Fund, currently £10 million per year.