Carbon inequality

“If the top 10% of global emitters were to reduce their carbon footprint to the level of an average European citizen, global emissions could be reduced by one third in a matter of a year or two.”

Kevin Anderson, climate scientist
Recommended reading

Extreme carbon inequality

By Oxfam


Press release

Carbon and inequality

By Thomas Piketty and Lucas Chancel


Large inequality in international and intranational energy footprints between income groups and across consumption categories

By Oswalk, Owen and Steinberger

Press release

Paper in Nature Energy


Inequality in energy consumption, both direct and indirect, affects the distribution of benefits that result from energy use. Detailed measures of this inequality are required to ensure an equitable and just energy transition. Here we calculate final energy footprints; that is, the energy embodied in goods and services across income classes in 86 countries, both highly industrialized and developing. We analyse the energy intensity of goods and services used by different income groups, as well as their income elasticity of demand. We find that inequality in the distribution of energy footprints varies across different goods and services. Energy-intensive goods tend to be more elastic, leading to higher energy footprints of high-income individuals. Our results consequently expose large inequality in international energy footprints: the consumption share of the bottom half of the population is less than 20% of final energy footprints, which in turn is less than what the top 5% consume.

Poorer households are reliant on energy intensive consumption in their homes (heat and electricity), whereas richer households tend to spend their larger incomes on energy-intensive products, and more specifically transport.