We all have a carbon footprint, it is an unavoidable side effect of daily life. However, the size of everyone’s carbon footprint varies drastically. A recent study has discovered that in one year the top 1% of earners in the UK are responsible for the same volume of greenhouse gas emissions as the bottom 10% generate over more than two decades. This drastic gap in emissions is made by those termed “the polluting elite”, whose carbon-intensive lifestyles fuel the climate crisis. The footprints of these “polluting elite” are far higher than the majority of people even in developed countries.
An analysis by Autonomy on greenhouse gas data from 1998 to 2018 found that it would take a low earner 26 years to produce the same footprint a “polluting elite” generates in one year. The study also revealed that if we started taxing carbon emissions two decades ago from this top 1%, approximately £126 billion could have been raised. These funds could have helped mitigation and adaptation strategies, such as providing insulation for poorer households, especially in situations like the current energy crisis. If this fund had been present for the past two decades, almost 8 million homes could have been retrofitted ahead of the energy crisis.
This emission gap has been identified at a crucial time as we are days away from COP27. Many homes are suffering from the cost-of-living crisis, this gap highlights more than ever that climate injustice needs to be addressed. Each year in the UK, less than half the population takes a flight, in contrast, one-fifth of overseas flights are the responsibility of the 1%. The gap is not only found in the UK, this difference can be viewed in almost every country. This contrast of those contributing least to climate change but suffering most is a common trend, particularly seen between developed and developing countries.
Lifestyle choices make a massive difference to your carbon footprint. Frequent overseas travelling, a meat-rich diet, and frequent purchases generate higher emissions. By making small changes to our daily lives, we can drastically reduce our carbon footprint, but we all have to make a difference. It has been suggested that the best way to deal with this emission gap is to tax those who are earning significantly more than the average person. It would provide a solution to the gap and the funding required to ensure that climate change is addressed equally. While our small everyday actions can make a difference, the greatest changes need to come from above and address those who are disproportionally responsible for the climate emergency.
Climate justice and social justice need to be addressed simultaneously if we are to have a meaningful difference. With discussions at COP27 pending, we hope that issues of inequality are addressed to help create a sustainable society and planet.