Inequalities in relation to CO2

According to Thomas Piketty the richest are 2,000 times more CO2 emitters


Emissions from CO₂: How to finance adaptation equitably? This study analyses the evolution of inequalities in CO2e (CO2 and other greenhouse gases) between individuals worldwide from 1998 to 2013. We use these results to construct and examine different strategies for financing a global fund for adaptation to climate change, based on a principle of equity between individuals and not between countries. To this end, the study combines historical data on the evolution of income inequalities within countries as well as data on national emissions related to consumption (thus including imports and exports of CO2e). A simple law linking individual income and emissions within each country is used. Our data cover approximately 90 % of population, GDP and global CO2e. The results depend not only on income inequalities within countries, but also on changes in consumption-related emissions between countries.


L’study shows that global inequalities in CO2e between individuals have decreased between 1998 and today, due to the rise of the middle and affluent classes in emerging countries and the relative stagnation of the incomes and emissions of the majority of the population in industrialised countries. Inequalities in income and CO2e have, however, increased within countries over the last 15 years. Emissions of CO2e remain highly concentrated today: the 10 % of the most emitting individuals are today responsible for 45 % of global emissions while the 50 % of the least emitting individuals are responsible for less than 13 % of emissions. The large emitters are today on all continents and a third of them come from emerging countries.

- Geographical distribution of CO2e

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The richest, 2,000 times more emitters

Among the highest emitters on the planet in 2013, our estimates highlight the 1 % of the wealthiest Americans, Luxembourgers, Singaporeans and Saudis, with annual emissions per person exceeding 200tCO2e. At the other end of the transmitter pyramid are the poorest individuals in Honduras, Mozambique, Rwanda and Malawi, with emissions 2,000 times lower, close to 0.1tCO2e per person per year. In the middle of the global distribution of emitters (between 6 and 7tCO2e per year), we find groups such as the 1 % of the richest Tanzanians, part of the Chinese middle class or Europeans with modest incomes (second and third decile French and German, for example).

The middle and affluent classes in emerging countries have increased their emissions faster than any other social group worldwide over the last fifteen years, with cumulative growth rates in emissions reaching 40 %. Some social groups have seen their emissions grow much less rapidly since 1998, or even decrease in the case of the lowest emitting individuals. At the top of the emissions pyramid, the majority of the population in industrialized countries has seen relatively modest growth in emissions (10 %). While the differences in emissions between the middle and the top have narrowed, they have increased between the bottom and the middle of the emitter pyramid. These trends are positive from an income perspective (emergence of a global middle class), but they represent a real climate challenge.

- How did emissions evolve between Kyoto and Paris for different emitting groups?


Our results show that inequalities in CO2he world's problems are increasingly explained by inequalities within countries - not between countries. Indeed, intra-country inequalities accounted for a third of the global inequality in CO2e in 1998 and now account for half of this inequality. This reinforces the relevance of an approach based on individuals rather than high emitting countries.

- Global inequalities in CO2e: importance of inequalities within and between countries


The new geography of emitters calls for action to combat climate change in all countries. While developing and emerging countries are increasingly contributing to emission reduction efforts (so-called mitigation efforts), the contribution to international climate change adaptation financing funds remains mainly the responsibility of developed countries (mainly the EU, with more than half of the funding). While an increase in contributions from the countries of the North is necessary, our study shows that the wealthy classes of emerging countries, due to the increase in their income and emissions, could also contribute to these funds. With the recent contributions of South Korea, Mexico and Colombia to the Green Climate FundIn addition, the fact that emerging and developing countries are de facto financing adaptation to climate change calls into question the distribution principles that seemed to prevail until now. However, their contribution remains symbolic at present and does not reflect either the distribution of historical greenhouse gas emissions or the new geography of large and small individual emitters.

Three proposals for financing adaptation

This study examines new strategies to increase the overall volume of aid for climate change adaptation. In these strategies, individual emissions, rather than national emissions or GDP per capita, would be the basis for calculating contributions. In order to better align contributions to adaptation funds with the new global distribution of emitters, the study examines the implications of a progressive global tax on CO2150 billion needed to finance adaptation. In strategy 1emissions, all emitters above the world average (i.e. all emitters above 6.2tCO2e per year) contribute to the effort in proportion to their emissions above the threshold. North Americans would contribute 46 % of the effort, compared to 16 % for Europeans and 12 % for the Chinese. In strategy 3The efforts are distributed among the 1 % with the highest emissions (i.e. all individuals above 9.1 times the world average). North Americans would contribute 57 % of the effort, compared with 15 % for Europeans and 6 % for Chinese. In these new effort distribution keys, the share of funding from Europe would decrease proportionally, but increase in absolute terms. Indeed, in strategy 3, the most favourable strategy for Europeans, the volume of funding from the Old Continent would reach 23 billion euros, i.e. more than three times its current contribution.

- Who should contribute to the climate adaptation fund?

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We are also discussing the implementation of such measures through national income taxes and through a general progressive tax on airline tickets. A tax on airline tickets has already been introduced in nine countries and is currently being used to finance international development programmes. Taxing all first-class tickets to the tune of €180 and all economy class tickets to the tune of €20 would generate €150 billion for adaptation each year. This solution would be easier to implement than a progressive CO2s, but would target large individual emitters less well.

Lucas ChancelResearcher with the New Prosperity Program, Iddri - Sciences Po

Thomas PikettyProfessor at the Paris School of Economics/Paris School of Economics, Paris School of Economics - Ecole d'économie de Paris

This text is the synthesis of a study published on 3 November 2015 by Lucas Chancel and Thomas Piketty. "Carbon and Inequality: From Kyoto to Paris.".

Photo: In San Ramon Centro, Honduras, a country with some of the lowest CO2e emissions in the world. STR New/Reuters

version of this article was published on The Conversation.


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