Story at a glance

  • As world leaders convened at COP26 to discuss climate change policy, the world’s richest 1 percent have the potential to thwart those plans.
  • Since 1990, the richest 1 percent have consistently contributed to higher global carbon emissions.
  • As US billionaires fly to space, one 11-minute space flight was found to emit no fewer than 75 tonnes of carbon per passenger.

The world’s richest 1 percent are set to emit 30 times more carbon emissions than the entire global per capita level by 2030, potentially thwarting global efforts to keep the Earth’s temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The richest 1 percent, which in the U.S. consists of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg, to name a few, have a track record of emitting a disproportionate amount of carbon compared to the rest of society. In 1990, the share of global emissions associated with the consumption of the richest 1 percent was 13 percent, then grew to 15 percent in 2015 and is projected to grow to 16 percent in 2030.

That’s according to a new report by Oxfam Policy & Practice

On the opposite end, the Oxfam report also found that the global middle classes are on course to cut per capita carbon emissions closest to the global goal of limiting Earth’s temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Researchers attributed this to the “Paris-effect” in changing behavior due to global red flags being waved to address climate change.


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 Carbon inequality is extreme and if the global goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius is to be achieved, the Oxfam report stressed that the world’s richest citizens have to work hand-in-hand with climate change policy.

Nafkote Dabi, a climate policy lead at Oxfam, told The Guardian, “A tiny elite appear to have a free pass to pollute. Their oversized emissions are fueling extreme weather around the world and jeopardizing the international goal of limiting global heating,” she said. 

This report comes just as leaders from around the world have made public commitments to address climate change at COP26, including President Biden who also outlined the most aggressive climate change policy in U.S. history. The plan, if passed by Congress, would cut greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. by 50 to 52 percent by 2030.

However, just as the president laid out his solution to climate change, billionaires in the U.S. flying to space could reverse that progress. Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’s space company, along with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, all sent humans on commercial flights to space this year.  

One 11-minute flight to outer space emits no fewer than 75 tonnes of carbon per passenger, while about one billion individuals emit less than one tonne per person a year. That’s according to a report by the Paris School of Economics published in October.


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Published on Nov 05, 2021