IEA: Top 1% emit 1000x more carbon than bottom 1%

The richest members of society contribute far more to greenhouse gas emissions than the poor, emitting 1000 times more carbon than the bottom 1%.  

These figures come from the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) latest analysis, quantifying the emissions of individuals by income.  

Results are stark, as the top 1% of emitters globally each had carbon footprints of over 50 tonnes of CO2 in 2021, 1000 times more than the bottom 1% of emitters.  

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‘Globally, the top 10% of emitters were responsible for almost half of global energy-related CO2 emissions in 2021, compared with a mere 0.2% for the bottom 10%,’ reads the report. ‘The top 10% averaged 22 tonnes of CO2 per capita in 2021, over 200 times more than the average for the bottom 10%. There are 782 million people in the top 10% of emitters, extending well beyond traditional ideas of the super rich. By comparison, around 0.6% of the world – an estimated 46.8 million individuals – are considered millionaires or billionaires.’  

People from developing economies, such as Africa and Asia, make up the bottom 10% where people lack access to goods and services like electricity and clean cooking. 

The global average energy-related carbon footprint is around 4.7 tonnes of CO2 per person – the equivalent of two round-trip flights between Singapore and New York.  

Findings also revealed that the average North American emitted 11 times more energy-related CO2 than the average African in 2021.  

But the divide between rich and poor even affects the richest echelons of society – the top 0.1% of the world’s population emitted 10 times more CO2 than rest of the richest 10% combined. 

Lifestyles contribute to this huge difference in emissions, as the rich are able to fly frequently, use more electricity and consume more overall.

However, the rich also have the most capacity to choose more energy-efficient and low-emission solutions. But it remains to be seen whether individual behaviour changes will take place to close the emissions gap, as far less flights and short car trips need to be made to reach net zero.  

Photo by Yaroslav Muzychenko


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