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Emissions divide now greater within countries than between them – study | Greenhouse gas emissions

The data show that the difference between rich and poor carbon emissions within a country is now larger than the difference in emissions between countries.

The discovery is further evidence of a growing gap between the “polluting elite” of wealthy people around the world and the relatively low responsibility for emissions among the rest of the population.

It also shows that there is plenty of room for the world’s poorest to increase their greenhouse gas emissions, if necessary to achieve prosperity, if rich people around the world, including some in developing countries, cut their emissions, the analysis showed.

Much of global climate policy focuses on the differences between developed and developing countries and their current and historical responsibilities for greenhouse gas emissions. But a growing body of work suggests that the “polluting elite” of those with the world’s highest incomes far exceeds the emissions of the poor.

This has major implications for combating climate change, as it shows that low-income people in developed countries contribute less to the climate crisis, while rich people in developing countries have a much larger carbon footprint than previously thought.

In a report entitled “Climate Inequality Report 2023”, economists at the World Inequality Laboratory analyze where carbon emissions are currently coming from. The Global Inequality Lab is run by influential economist Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, whose work since the financial crisis more than a decade ago helped popularize the idea of ​​the 1%, a global high-income group whose interests are fueled by modern economic systems.

The report states that “the carbon disparity within countries is currently greater than the carbon disparity between countries. The consumption and investment patterns of a relatively small group of the population directly or indirectly contribute disproportionately to greenhouse gas emissions. While inequalities in emissions between countries remain significant, overall inequalities in global emissions are now mainly due to inequalities within a country on some measures.”

The report also notes that while foreign climate aid — a key issue in the recent Cop27 climate talks — will be needed to help developing countries reduce their emissions, it will not be enough, and developing countries also need to reform their domestic tax systems to redistribute more. from the rich.

The authors suggest that windfall taxes on windfall profits can help finance low-carbon investment as well as progressive taxation in countries, including developing countries, that often under-tax wealthy individuals and companies.

The report says that large emerging economies such as China are now increasingly responsible for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Now they must develop clear plans to achieve zero emissions.

Peter Newell, a professor of international relations at the University of Sussex who has worked extensively on the issue of polluting elites and was not involved in the report, said he showed that consumption patterns need to change to deal with the climate crisis.

“Emissions inequality matters because carbon inequality within countries accounts for much of the global carbon inequality between those who emit and those who suffer the worst effects of global warming and have the least ability to adapt,” he said.

“Polluter elite consumption and investment patterns that lead to such an unequal contribution to climate change need to be reduced and redirected accordingly. It’s a huge challenge.”

But he added that the report also shows how global poverty can be tackled without increasing greenhouse gas emissions overall, which is key as the world needs to cut emissions by about half by 2030 to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C. compared to the pre-industrial era. levels.

Newell told the Guardian: “[The report shows that] The fight against global poverty will not exceed global carbon budgets, as is often claimed. Failure to pay attention to the power and privileges of the polluting elite. This is because reducing carbon consumption at the top can free up carbon space and lift people out of poverty.”

The solutions, he says, lie in changing government policies to focus on the polluting elite and developing a more equitable and efficient approach to reducing emissions.

“A combination of progressive taxation, including on highly polluting activities, and reallocation of fossil fuel subsidies can help strengthen the welfare state and provide social safety nets to help close some of these gaps,” he said.

“This critical report re-emphasizes the need for a just transition to a low-carbon economy, reflecting the unequal responsibility for causing the climate crisis and unequal opportunities to address it.”

Last year, a paper by the PIK Potsdam Institute for Climate Research, co-authored with Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, found that taxing the wealthy was one of the best ways to finance the transition to a low-carbon economy.

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