Over the past 6 months Oxfam, The Guardian, Stockholm Environment Institute et al have been working on a report, Climate Equality: A planet for the 99%. The report details how the richest 1% emit more carbon than the poorest 66%. Not only do their transport, heating, air conditioning and doomsday bunker choices emit tonnes more carbon, they shield them from the effects of their emissions….

The world faces twin crises of climate breakdown and runaway inequality. The richest people, corporations and countries are destroying the world with their huge carbon emissions. Meanwhile, people living in poverty, those experiencing marginalization, and countries in the Global South are those impacted the hardest. Women and girls, Indigenous Peoples, people living in poverty and other groups experiencing discrimination are particularly at a disadvantage. The consequences of climate breakdown are felt in all parts of the world and by most people, yet only the richest people and countries have the wealth, power and influence to protect themselves. With that power comes huge responsibility.

If no action is taken, the richest will continue to burn through the carbon we have left to use while keeping the global temperature below the safe limit of 1.5°C, destroying any chance of ending poverty and ensuring equality. The world needs an equal transformation. Only a radical reduction in inequality, transformative climate action and fundamentally shifting our economic goals as a society can save our planet while ensuring wellbeing for all.

The report uses a “mortality cost” formula, also used by the US Environmental Protection Agency, which estimates there are 226 excess deaths worldwide for every million tonnes of carbon. According to this calculation the emissions from the 1% (5.9bn tonnes in 2019) would be enough to cause the heat-related deaths of 1.3 million people over the coming decades. It also calculates that from 1990 to 2019, the accumulated emissions of the 1% were equivalent to wiping out last year’s harvests of EU corn, US wheat, Bangladeshi rice and Chinese soya beans.

It is good to see that the effect on the environment of such gross inequality has been quantified. Whilst Oxfam rightly calls for wealth taxation and redistribution the proceeds from a direct carbon pricing policy such as Climate Income, if applied to the fossil fuels billionaires consume would hugely boost the dividend available. Climate Income could be part of the transformative climate action Oxfam asks for if it were to be applied globally, as detailed in these recent reports.* Maybe even billionaires would think again when they see the effects of carbon pricing on their pockets, perhaps more travel by Tesla and less private jets, or boosting investment in alternative aviation fuels?

We also mustn’t lose sight of that fact that the average householder in the Global North contributes to global warming because pollution (fossil fuels) is currently more subsidised than priced and has skewed heating and transport choices. 14% of the UK’s emissions come from domestic heating. Pricing pollution should not just target the rich, but all of us.

Climate Income ensures making pollution pay does not penalise the majority whilst incentivising decarbonisation.

*Protecting the poor with a carbon tax and equal per capita dividend (Nature Climate Change, Nov 2021) outlined the benefit of imposing an international Climate Income policy, especially if the dividend could be returned on an equal per capita basis globally.

TOLL GATES AND MONEY PUMPS: Why carbon taxation could be a simple, fair and transformative policy instrument., Autonomy, March 2022. The report by the Autonomy think tank outlines how a globally applied carbon fee and dividend policy would be extremely effective at lifting the poorest countries out of poverty and more than a billion people above the global poverty line, as well as combating climate change.