climate change equality

The inequalities of climate change

Oxfam have done some eye-catching work on inequality over the last couple of years, and their latest report looks at inequality from a climate change angle. Responsibility for climate change isn’t evenly spread. Some have much higher carbon footprints than others, and it is the richest that have the highest emissions.

Here’s a graph of lifestyle consumption emissions – that’s the emissions we are personally responsible for, which make up about two thirds of the global total. (Government, infrastructure and international transport makes up the other third.)

carbon emissions inequality

The inequalities are striking. The richest 10% of the population are responsible for almost half of global emissions. And don’t think yachts and private jets. I’m in that 10%, and most of the readers of this blog will be too.

Unfortunately, the impact of climate change is unequal too. As Oxfam say, “The poorest half of the global population are responsible for only around 10% of global emissions yet live overwhelmingly in the countries most vulnerable to climate change.”

That’s why climate change is not just an environmental problem, but a major justice issue too.



  1. We can be clearly shown the unfairness of this issue and the conclusion that we need to make it more fair, but where do we see the reasons stated why it is morally and even physically in our own interests to be fair and just. Only the odd article on psychology/sociology. Even religion states it without explaining it, other than what is, in effect, ‘because God/Jesus said so;. I think we need to have more stated on the rational need to care for one and all, and how to. Else we seem to progress little without real united will. The smell of money, other power, and blind self-interest is too overwhelming. I think we are, in the main, like blind lemmings, driven by the wrong element in human nature (fear). OMG, I’m off on one again, rightly or wrongly!

  2. Religion gives us plenty to go on in my experience – all of us are equal in the eyes of God for example, or the earth is a gift and nobody gets to make a claim to it at the expense of others.

    But whether it’s from religion or from psychology, I don’t think people can really be argued into sharing. To me greater equality seems an obviously good thing, and I guess I have an innate sense of justice. Clearly others don’t have that and I don’t know why, but I doubt more information is what is required.

    I think we need to tell a different story about ourselves, one that frames us as collaborating and cooperating individuals rather than competing for everything.

  3. This has concerned me for some time.

    We may well officially be in the ‘top 10%’ but by German standards we’re on the absolute basic income, as are a lot of other people around us. It’s hard to feel like we’re at the top when we’re one bill away from a food bank.

    We conserve energy because there’s no choice, and we are often cold: we don’t drive because we couldn’t afford a car if we wanted to have one: we don’t have anything to ‘give up’: a point lost on someone who recently tried to guilt-trip us into buying organic food they were convinced that we had some luxuries somewhere that we could ‘do without’ and use the money to pay the extra at the local trendy organic market. I offered to let them see our accounts to see of they could find a luxury item to leave out: shoes, perhaps. That’s part of the problem: in order to afford the approved organic food, you need to have an unsustainable job to earn lots of money.

    I’ve looked at how we could live more sustainably and reduce our fixed costs, only to discover that most ways of living sustainably, or even attempting to leave this 10%, are illegal. Even if you have the land, and the skills, you can’t build an ecological house with local materials: you have to get an architect and ‘specialist’ company to come and build it for you -using high energy materials brought in from miles away. Even things that are legal, like cycling have to be done in the teeth of official apathy or downright opposition. You have to really, really believe in what you do and still you’re at least partially trapped. We need to find a solution that is both pleasant and achievable by those of us in the bottom 10% of the ‘wealthy’ countries.

    1. I understand your position! We’ve worked hard to live more simply and reduce our ecological footprint too. The things we could do next are, like you, beyond our financial means. I know a couple of things we could do to trim our footprints further, but we’d have to move house or change jobs to get there.

      A purely personal approach to reducing our impact isn’t enough. Even if we do everything we can, we still need change at municipal and government level. In Britain, a per capita share of the government and local council’s emissions is enough to put us over the ‘one planet living’ threshold.

      This is one of the reasons why I like Transition Towns – it allows us to create change at that intermediate level.

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