Top Irish income bracket emits almost as much as bottom 50 per cent

21 September 2020 

The richest 10 per cent of the country emits almost as much as the bottom 50 per cent, a new report from Oxfam Ireland reveals. 

The authors found that almost half a million of the population fall into the top 10 per cent of earners, while the bottom half is five times that size, coming in at 2.3 million. 

The statistic was revealed in Oxfam’s new report, Confronting Carbon Inequality, which drew on data from 1990 to 2015. 

In highlighting the fundamentally unequal share of responsibility for Ireland’s emissions, Oxfam found that the distribution mirrors global trends whereby higher income groups expend significantly more carbon emissions than lower income groups. 

Globally, annual emissions grew by 60 per cent between 1990 and 2015, with the top 5 per cent being responsible for over a third of this increase. 

When looking at the highest 10 per cent income bracket, the group accounted for over half of emissions added to the atmosphere between 1990 and 2015. 

The top one per cent alone made up 15 per cent of the total figure, which eclipses the climate impact of more than all the citizens of the European Union and more than twice that of the 3.1 billion poorest half of humanity. 

Additionally, within the same time frame, the richest ten per cent spent a third of the total global 1.5 C carbon budget. 

Achieving climate justice, the report stressed, must see those who have contributed the most to the climate crisis bearing the greatest responsibility in addressing it.

In order to do this, the authors said, “Ireland must put tackling the twin climate and inequality crises at the heart of their Covid-19 economic recovery”. 

Highly intensive carbon intensive consumption 

The research does not explicitly name the forms of consumption of the highest income groups but infers from another study that top 10 and 1 per cent of EU emitters see the largest share of their emissions come from transport, namely car journeys and flights. 

Another study showed that 10 per cent of the richest households globally use around 45 per cent of all the energy linked to land transport and around 75 per cent of all energy linked to aviation. 

The bottom half of the world’s economy uses 10 and 5 per cent respectively for land and air transport. 

Until governments confront carbon inequality, “a wealthy minority will continue to enjoy the luxuries of over-consumption” while fuelling the climate crisis, according to Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland Jim Clarken. 

“Simply rebooting our outdated, unfair and polluting pre-Covid economies is no longer a viable option. Governments must seize this opportunity to reshape our economies and build a better tomorrow for us all,” Mr. Clarken said. 

Budget recommendations 

In order to address carbon inequality, Oxfam Ireland outlined a number of actions for the Government to consider in the forthcoming budget for 2021. 

Such actions include equality proofing climate actions to offset any negative impacts felt by low-income groups, introducing focused policy measures that target excessive and luxury emissions, ending tax breaks for aircraft fuel and exploring mechanisms to discourage frequent fliers. 

Government bailouts and subsidies should cease for luxury carbon consumption sectors and instead investment should be expanded into low carbon sectors, like health and social care. 

Additionally, for those most impacted by the transition to a post-carbon future, new decent job guarantees should be designed for those sectors of the economy that are set to be most impacted by the transition. 

About the Author

Kayle Crosson