New Report Confirms: World's Wealthy Fueling Carbon Pollution as Poor Suffer

As politicians, diplomats, and corporate representatives gather in Paris for the COP21 talks, a new report released Wednesday by Oxfam International confirms what civil society groups have long charged: while the richest people and countries are disproportionately driving climate change, the poor—particularly in the global south—bear the brunt of the droughts, mega-storms, and rising seas.

In fact, the report finds, the poorest 50 percent of the global population is responsible for only 10 percent of carbon emissions.

In contrast, the wealthy of the world are responsible for a disproportionate share of climate pollution, with the top 10 percent to blame for roughly half of global carbon emissions.

The disparity, however, grows even more extreme when the top one percent of the world is examined. An individual in this ultra-rich class, on average, uses 175 times more carbon than a person from the bottom 10 percent.

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“The only people who benefit from the status quo and who stand to gain from a weak deal in Paris is a select group of billionaires, who have made many of their fortunes in the fossil fuel industry.”
—Oxfam InternationalGlobal inequalities are evident.

The report concludes that a person from the poorest half of the population in India uses, on average, only one-twentieth of the carbon of someone in the poorest half in the United States. And India’s richest tenth uses a quarter of the carbon of someone from the poorest half of the population in the United States.

Similarly, the 600 million people who comprise the poorest 50 percent of China’s population produce just a third of the emissions of the wealthiest tenth in the United States.


“[T]his analysis helps dispel the myth that citizens in rapidly developing countries are somehow most to blame for climate change,” a report summary states. “While emissions are rising fastest in developing countries, much of this is for the production of goods consumed in other countries, meaning that the emissions associated with the lifestyle of the vast majority of their citizens are still far lower than their counterparts in developed countries.”

What’s more, a World Bank report released (pdf) in November found that the global poor are more severely threatened by floods, droughts, crop failures, and heat waves, with women often the most heavily impacted.

Therefore, the Oxfam report authors argue, “the only people who benefit from the status quo and who stand to gain from a weak deal in Paris is a select group of billionaires, who have made many of their fortunes in the fossil fuel industry.”

This warning is being echoed on the streets of Paris, where people from across the world are holding Indigenous healing ceremonies, forming human chains, and launching creative art campaigns to demand a strong deal. They are accompanied by people rallying and protesting across the planet.

Many charge that wealthy countries like the United States are shirking their responsibility to address the crisis.

“If the Obama administration is serious about climate change they also have to be serious about the changes they are willing to make,” said Kandi Mosset from the Indigenous Environmental Network, part of an alliance of leaders from communities on the front-lines of the climate change in the U.S. and Canada, in a press statement released in late November. “Those changes will not be easy, but going the easy way and conceding to fossil fuel interests is what got us to this crisis in the first place.”

Mosset added: “It’s time to change and stand with the people, not the polluters.”

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