‘Carbon footprint gap between rich and poor gets wider’

Cutting the carbon used by the rich, will get us to net zero much faster says professor

Big Zero Report 2022

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Wealthy people are responsible for more and more emissions over the years, a study has found.

In 2010, the most affluent 10% of households emitted 34% of global carbon dioxide, while the 50% of the global population in lower incomes accounted for just 15%.

Interestingly, just five years later, in 2015 the disparity had stretched to 49% against 7%.

ELN talked to Aimee Ambrose, Professor of Energy Policy at Sheffield Hallam University about her study and the reasons why cutting the carbon footprint of rich people could provide the fastest way to net zero.

Professor Ambrose said: “It’s incredibly important in terms of net zero. Those high consumers that we have identified are the people who are driving rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions, they are driving increasing expectations about the goods and services we will be able to access, they are defining how the rest of society views a happy, successful and fulfilled life.

“They are setting the expectations for the rest of us. In two ways they are absolutely crucial to reaching net zero, one in terms of actually reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions they are directly contributing to and secondly in terms of their influence on wider society and what we expect.”

The author of the report added that these ‘high consumers’ represent the biggest opportunity to reduce emissions from energy and transport.

The study found that the bottom half of the population accounted for less than 20% of final energy demand, less than the top 5% consumes.

The homes of the richer people may be more energy efficient, but they have more space to heat and they use more luxury items and more gadgets. They also engage in higher use of energy for private transport, the study suggests.

Professor Ambrose added: “Higher consumers don’t suffer from a poorer quality environment in their immediate area as a result of their high consumption. The impacts are displaced into the poorer areas of the cities.

“If a household is running two cars, two large four-wheel-drive SUV type vehicles and they are driving them to work every day, they are passing through lower-income neighbourhoods and that’s where they are concentrating those emissions.”

Watch the video to listen to the full interview.

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