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This is not what climate equality looks like

A recent report from Oxfam International – Climate Equality: a planet for the 99% – has found that top earners are disproportionately driving the climate crisis. The wealthiest 1% of the world’s population, including billionaires, millionaires, and individuals earning over $140,000 annually, are responsible for a staggering 16% of all carbon emissions, exceeding those of two-thirds of humanity. The consequences are dire, particularly for vulnerable communities and the collective efforts to combat the climate crisis.

Although the super-rich lead lives insulated from the effects of climate change and enjoy luxury, their emissions and resource consumption cause immense suffering. According to the “mortality cost” formula, their 2019 emissions alone (5.9bn tonnes of CO2) could lead to 1.3 million heat-related deaths over the next few decades. The burden of this environmental crisis disproportionately falls upon marginalized communities, including those in poverty, ethnic minorities, migrants, and women and girls. These groups, lacking financial security and social protection, are more susceptible to the ravages of extreme weather events.

The consumption of resources necessary to meet human rights, such as sufficient food, housing, water, sanitation, a decent standard of living, work, and culture, must be protected at all costs. However, any consumption that surpasses what is reasonably required to guarantee these fundamental rights should not.

Globally, the world’s richest 10%—which includes much of the Global North’s middle classes—are responsible for half of today’s emissions, which is 8.5 times more than what is compatible with the 2030 target to stay below the safe limit of 1.5°C. Emissions and resource use must be reduced substantially and quickly.

Those who make climate-aware consumption choices can undoubtedly make a difference. However, these efforts alone are insufficient to reduce emissions to the extent needed for Net Zero in 2050. This goes beyond people’s own personal capacity; instead, it requires deep structural changes to our economies. Unfortunately, our economies are disproportionately influenced by the wealthiest 1%, making it a complex challenge that requires collective action.

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