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Extreme inequality of greenhouse gas emissions

2 December 2015

Oxfam's Extreme carbon inequality report shows that the richest 10% of the world's population accounts for half of the world's emissions, while the poorest half of the population accounts for only a tenth. Poor countries, which have contributed the least to global emissions, are the hardest hit by climate change. Around the world, poor people are struggling to cope with droughts, floods and other extreme weather events that cause crop failure and hunger and lock people into poverty.

"Climate change and economic inequality go hand in hand - together they represent one of the biggest and most important challenges of our time."

Tim Gore, Oxfam climate expert

The 'Extreme Carbon Inequality' report examines how global emissions are distributed between rich and poor people in different parts of the world. Its findings help to dispel the myth that people in the fastest growing developing countries bear the brunt of global emissions. Although emissions are increasing rapidly in these countries, a large share goes to producing goods consumed by people in other countries, showing that lifestyle-related emissions are still much lower in developing countries.

The report clearly shows that emissions are unequally distributed globally as well as within and between countries. Here are some examples:
- A person from the richest one percent of the world's population emits on average 175 times more carbon dioxide than a person from the poorest 10 percent
- A person from the richest 10 percent of India's population typically emits a quarter as much carbon dioxide as someone from the poorest half of the U.S. population:population
-A person from the poorest half of India's population emits only one twentieth as much as someone from the poorest half of the US population
-Total emissions from the poorest half of China's population (about 600 million people) are only one third of the total emissions from the richest 10 percent of the US population (about 30 million people)

"It is easy to forget that the fastest growing economies in the world also contain a large proportion of the world's poor. All countries must take responsibility for our shared future by reducing emissions, but rich countries, which bear the greatest responsibility for climate change, should lead the way."

Tim Gore, Oxfam climate expert

The only people who really benefit from not tackling climate change are a small group of people who make big money in the fossil fuel industry. For the masses, the benefits are non-existent. A new report by the World Bank shows that poor communities that are least equipped to deal with climate change are hit hardest. Rural women are particularly vulnerable as they are often entirely dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Oxfam is pushing for policymakers to do much more to reduce emissions to slow global warming and provide resources to help the poorest and most vulnerable communities adapt to the changing climate. We must also take action on the damage that has already been done.