The richest one per cent of the world’s population produces double the carbon emission of the poorest 50 per cent combined, according to the UN.
And the so-called ‘polluter elite‘ of the wealthiest 5 per cent have contributed to 37 per cent of the growth in emissions from 1990–2015, experts have calculated.
This disparity in pollution is highlighted by a recent report from the UK-based Cambridge Sustainability Commission on Scaling Behaviour Change.
The document was compiled by 31 environmental impact experts tasked with exploring ways to best scale up actions to tackle carbon emissions.
Actions suggested by the panel include deterring people from frequent flying and driving SUVs — as well as convincing the wealthy to better insulate their homes.
To this end, the report has urged the UK Government to reinstate air passenger duty on UK return flights and the recently-scrapped Green Homes Grant scheme.
The report adds to the on-going debate about ‘equality’ in tackling climate change.
Poorer nations with smaller emissions budgets — such have India — have long argued that they should be allowed to pollute more on the scale of wealthier nations.
Critics of the report’s findings have suggested that emissions would be better cut by means of technological advances — not unpopular restrictions.
‘It’s right to emphasise the importance of fairness in delivering [emissions cuts]’, Conservative Environment Network director Sam Hall told BBC News.
‘Policy could make it easier for people and businesses to go green — through incentives, targeted regulation and nudges.’
‘But encouraging clean technologies is likely to be more effective, and more likely to enjoy public consent, than hefty penalties or lifestyle restrictions.’
‘We are totally in favour of technology improvements and more efficient products but it’s clear that more drastic action is needed because emissions keep going up,’ report lead author Peter Newell told BBC News.
‘We have got to cut over-consumption and the best place to start is over-consumption among the polluting elites who contribute by far more than their share of carbon emissions,’ the University of Sussex international relations expert added.
‘These are people who fly most, drive the biggest cars most and live in the biggest homes which they can easily afford to heat, so they tend not to worry if they’re well insulated or not.’
‘They’re also the sort of people who could really afford good insulation and solar panels if they wanted to.’
To effectively combat climate change, Professor Newell said, people need to feel that they are part of a collective effort — meaning that the rich and super-rich need to consume less in order to set an example to those who are less well-off.
‘Rich people who fly a lot may think they can offset their emissions by tree-planting schemes or projects to capture carbon from the air,’ Professor Newell told the BBC.
‘But these schemes are highly contentious and they’re not proven over time.’
According to Professor Newell, wealthy individuals and firms are presently well-placed to lobby against any action to combat climate change that might impinge on the lifestyles of the rich.
However, he added, the wealthy, he added, ‘simply must fly less and drive less.’
‘Even if they own an electric SUV that’s still a drain on the energy system and all the emissions created making the vehicle in the first place.’
The full report was published on the Rapid Transition Alliance website.
THE PARIS AGREEMENT: A GLOBAL ACCORD TO LIMIT TEMPERATURE RISES THROUGH CARBON EMISSION REDUCTION TARGETS
The Paris Agreement, which was first signed in 2015, is an international agreement to control and limit climate change.
It hopes to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2°C (3.6ºF) ‘and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C (2.7°F)’.
It seems the more ambitious goal of restricting global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) may be more important than ever, according to previous research which claims 25 per cent of the world could see a significant increase in drier conditions.
In June 2017, President Trump announced his intention for the US, the second largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world, to withdraw from the agreement.
The Paris Agreement on Climate Change has four main goals with regards to reducing emissions:
1) A long-term goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels
2) To aim to limit the increase to 1.5°C, since this would significantly reduce risks and the impacts of climate change
3) Goverments agreed on the need for global emissions to peak as soon as possible, recognising that this will take longer for developing countries
4) To undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with the best available science