We're all responsible for the ongoing climate crisis, but we're not equally responsible: the top 1% income earners, for instance, account for more than twice the greenhouse gas emissions of the poorest 50%, according to a UN report.
The top 10% income earners use about 45% of the energy consumed for land transport and about 75% of the energy used for aviation, compared to 10% and 5% respectively for the poorest 50% in the world.
This has to change, and fast, warns the UN.
In its emission gap report, the UN Environment Program (UNEP) said the carbon footprints have to be cut to 2.5 tons of CO2 per capita by 2030. For the 10% earners, this would mean a 10% reduction, while for the richest 1% it would mean cutting their emissions by a factor of 30 – a significant change in their lifestyle.
"The wealthy bear the greatest responsibility in this area," UNEP executive director Inger Anderson wrote in a foreword to the report. "The combined emissions of the richest 1% of the global population account for more than twice the combined emissions of the poorest 50%. They need to reduce their footprint.”
The report listed a set of actions we can all take to change our lifestyle and reduce our carbon footprint. Taking one less long-haul international return flight would reduce your footprint by almost two tons of CO2 while using renewable electricity in your household would curb emissions by 1.5 tons per capita.
But it’s not only individuals. Governments themselves have plenty of opportunities for reducing their emissions by pursuing a green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. If they take further climate action, they could reduce expected emissions in 2030 by about 25% and give the world a 66% change to keep temperatures below 2ºC.
Countries agreed in 2015 through the Paris Agreement to limit the temperature increase to 2ºC and ideally to 1.5ºC to avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis. But so far we are far from that goal. With the current climate pledges, the world is heading to a global warming of between 3ºC and 4ºC.
To be on track with the 2º goal, countries would have to collectively increase their climate action threefold, while to be in line with the 1.5ºC goal they would have to do so fivefold, according to the UN’s report. Between now and next year, new climate pledges are expected as governments ready for the COP26 climate summit in 2021.
"The year 2020 is on course to be one of the warmest on record, while wildfires, storms, and droughts continue to wreak havoc," said Andersen."However, Unep's Emissions Gap report shows that a green pandemic recovery can take a huge slice out of greenhouse gas emissions and help slow climate change.”
Each annual UNEP report analyses the previous year’s emissions. In 2019, emissions reached a record high of 52.4 GtCO2e, mainly because of land-use and non-CO2 greenhouse gasses. Looking at this year, the UN estimated that emissions would drop 7% compared to 2019 levels due to the coronavirus pandemic
The UN also said that so far government actions on a green recovery have been limited, with a lot of money spent instead on fossil fuels. But it highlighted that so far 126 countries covering 51% of global emissions have net-zero goals that are either formally adopted, announced, or under consideration.
“The growing climate and social justice movements demand that governments not just eventually close the gap, but prove to all of us that they are, at this moment, doing everything in their power to tackle the unfolding climate emergency,” said Greenpeace International Executive Director, Jennifer Morgan, in a statement.