Emissions from top EU earners have grown over past 25 years

8 December 2020 

Emissions among the EU’s top income earners grew while the climate impacts of lower and middle income Europeans declined over the past 25 years, according to new analysis. 

The trend was reported by Oxfam International in its “Confronting Carbon Inequality in the European Union” report, which found that while the poorest half of the bloc reduced its emissions by almost a quarter, the richest ten per cent of Europeans increased their emissions by 3 per cent. 

The latter grouping were also responsible for over a quarter of the European Union’s emissions and had an impact on the climate equal to that of the poorest half of the region’s population. 

If global warming is to be kept at or below 1.5 C, the carbon footprint of the richest ten per cent in Europe must be ten times smaller by the end of the decade, Oxfam warned. 

“A free ride” 

The report demonstrates that carbon reductions have been delivered by lower earners in the EU, while “the richest have had a free ride”, according to co-author Tim Gore. 

“Carbon inequality could derail Europe’s climate targets unless EU leaders take a joined-up approach to both cut emissions and tackle inequality. 

The yellow vest protests in France showed how quickly climate policies can unravel if they are not built on principles of fairness and justice,” Mr. Gore said. 

Air travel and car journeys were found to be responsible for the largest share of the highest emitting European carbon footprints, accounting for 30 to 40 per cent of their total emisisons. 

Transport emissions have increased significantly in all but two EU Member States since 1990 and are responsible for around a quarter of all EU emissions, according to the analysis. 

Oxfam attributed the development to the growth in demand for polluting luxury vehicles, such as SUVs, which account for a third of new cars sold in the EU today. 

“The EU Green Deal can target the emissions of the richest while directly benefiting lower income Europeans. 

It’s time to ban SUVs, tax aviation fuel, and invest in housing renovation and public transport to end fuel poverty, create millions of decent jobs and cleaner air for all,” Mr. Gore said. 

Ireland and carbon inequality 

Earlier this year, a report from Oxfam Ireland found that the richest 10 per cent of the country emits almost as much as the bottom 50 per cent. 

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”. 

About the Author

Kayle Crosson