World’s Wealthiest 1% Produce Double The Carbon Emissions Of Poorest 50%

Emily Brown


World's Wealthiest 1% Produce Double The Carbon Emissions Of Poorest 50%PA Images/Pexels

A new study aimed at finding the most effective way to tackle carbon emissions has revealed the world’s wealthiest 1% produce double the combined carbon emissions of the poorest 50%.

The report, from the UK-based Cambridge Sustainability Commission on Scaling Behaviour Change, found that those who fly more frequently, drive bigger cars and live in big homes are contributing ‘more than their share’ of carbon emissions.

Led by Professor Peter Newell, of Sussex University, the findings come from a panel of 31 individuals who study people’s behaviour relating to the environment.

Learn more about the report here:

Speaking to BBC News, Newell explained that while researchers are ‘totally in favour of technology improvements and more efficient products’ to tackle carbon emissions, ‘more drastic action is needed’.

He commented, ‘We have got to cut over-consumption and the best place to start is over-consumption among the polluting elites who contribute by far more than their share of carbon emissions.’

Between the years of 1990 and 2015, the wealthiest 5% contributed a staggering 37% of emissions growth, according to evidence reviewed by the Cambridge Commission. Nearly half of the growth in absolute global emissions was due to the richest 10%.

Newell described the ‘polluting elites’ as those who ‘fly most, drive the biggest cars most and live in the biggest homes which they can easily afford to heat, so they tend not to worry if they’re well insulated or not’, adding, ‘They’re also the sort of people who could really afford good insulation and solar panels if they wanted to.’

In an effort to tackle climate change, Newell stressed the need for everyone to ‘feel part of a collective effort’, meaning rich people need to set an example as they ‘simply must fly less and drive less. Even if they own an electric SUV that’s still a drain on the energy system and all the emissions created making the vehicle in the first place’.

He said, ‘Rich people who fly a lot may think they can offset their emissions by tree-planting schemes or projects to capture carbon from the air. But these schemes are highly contentious and they’re not proven over time.’


In order to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change, which aims to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the report stated that the richest 1% of the global population need to reduce their emissions by a factor of at least 30 by 2030 – though the poorest 50% of humanity could actually increase their emissions by three-times their current level.

The authors of the report are urging the UK government to aid the effort by reversing its decision to scrap air passenger duty on UK return flights and to reinstate the Green Homes Grant scheme.

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Topics: News, Carbon Emissions, Climate Change, Environment, Now


BBC and 2 others
  1. BBC

    World's wealthiest 'at heart of climate problem'

  2. Rapid Transition Alliance/YouTube

    Introduction to the Cambridge Commission report on Scaling Behaviour Change, with Peter Newell

  3. Cambridge Sustainability Commissions

    Changing our ways? Behaviour change and the climate crisis

Emily Brown
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