Climate Change

The One Percent's Huge Carbon Footprint

The world's richest ten percent are responsible for an estimated 47 percent share of global CO2 emissions. This is the result of a recent study published in the journal Nature Sustainability, which focused on how alleviating poverty worldwide would impact carbon emissions. As our chart shows, the difference between the poorest and wealthiest people not only shows in their emission share.

On average, a person filed under the lower 50 percent income group only produces about one ton of CO2 per year compared to about 48 tons of carbon dioxide per capita emitted by the wealthiest one percent. Of course, the results are different depending on the region. In Europe, for example, the bottom 50 percent had a higher estimated share of total emissions than the top ten percent, while the top one percent in Sub-Saharan Africa induced more carbon emissions than the bottom 50 percent.

While combating poverty around the world would entail a coordinated effort and logistical challenges, its effects on global warming would be minimal according to the study. Lifting more than one billion people above the poverty line under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 1 would only raise the estimated global CO2 output by roughly two percent, even though carbon emissions in low to lower-middle income countries in Sub-Saharan Africa could potentially double.


This chart shows the estimated global CO2 emission share by income groups.

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Global share of cumulative CO2 emissions* South Korea 2011-2020
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Global share of CO2 emissions South Korea 2011-2020
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