As the world grapples with the dual crises of inequality and climate change, a new report has found the richest 1 percent of the global population is generating the same amount of carbon emissions as the five billion people who make up the poorest two-thirds.
Analysis published Sunday by the charity Oxfam International concluded that the 77 million people who comprised the wealthiest 1 percent of the world's population in 2019 were responsible for 16 percent of all global emissions that year.
That is more than all car and road transport emissions combined.
The report found that emissions caused by the consumption habits of the richest 1 percent would cause 1.3 million heat-related excess deaths between 2020 and 2030 – roughly the population of Milan.
Based on research compiled by the Stockholm Environment Institute, the report also showed that in 2019 the richest 10 percent of the world's population accounted for half of all planet-harming emissions.
Entitled "Climate Equality: A Planet for the 99 Percent", the report said inequality and climate change were inextricably linked. As long as the ultra-rich continued to focus on profits rather than creating a more sustainable world, it warned, both inequality and climate threats would grow to catastrophic levels.
“The super-rich are plundering and polluting the planet to the point of destruction, leaving humanity choking on extreme heat, floods and drought,” said Amitabh Behar, Oxfam's interim executive director.
While the super-rich were mostly white men living in high-income countries – many of whom invested in polluting companies – the poor were largely made of up women and girls, indigenous communities and people in low-income countries without the resources to protect themselves.
“For years we've fought to end the era of fossil fuels to save millions of lives and our planet. It's clearer than ever this will be impossible until we, too, end the era of extreme wealth,” Behar added.
“Part of the problem is the super-rich's lavish lifestyle, which includes the use of heavy carbon-emitting yachts and private jets.”
Oxfam warned the challenge of transitioning away from fossil fuels – which is crucial to keep the world to within 1.5C of warming before the end of the century – is made even more difficult when the world's richest billionaires contine to so heavily invest in polluting companies.
Unlike ordinary people, emissions caused by the ultra rich are largely a result of their investments. Last year Oxfam reported separately that 125 of the world's richest billionaires emitted an average of 3 million tonnes a year because of this.
That's more than a million times the average for someone in the bottom 90 percent of humanity.
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The charity said it had witnessed first-hand how marginalised people living in poverty – who had very small carbon footprints – were enduring deadly climate impacts.
“They instead are left to pick up the pieces after each devastating drought, fire, and flood, widening the economic gap a bit more each time,” Oxfam said, underlining that as inequality worsens, so too does climate change.
The report comes as world leaders prepare to meet for high-level Cop28 climate talks in Dubai later this month.