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New report highlights Swedish climate inequality

8 December 2020

Swedish emission reductions since 1990 have been achieved thanks to low and middle income earners. The richest ten per cent of the population have hardly contributed to emission reductions at all

Today Oxfam releases a review of climate inequality in Sweden.

The report is based on research carried out together with the Stockholm Environment Institute. The methodology and previous findings were published in "Carbon Inequality Era", an assessment of the global distribution of consumption emissions among individuals between 1990 and 2015.

The new report examines the carbon dioxide emissions of Swedes linked to consumption between 1990 and 2015, a period during which income inequality increased and Sweden's total consumption emissions decreased by 11%. The report shows inequality in consumption emissions between different income groups:

  • The total carbon dioxide emissions of the bottom 50% fell by 16%, while those of the middle 40% fell by 12%. In contrast, the top 10% did not change their total emissions significantly - by just one per cent. The richest one percent increased their emissions by 11%.
  • Per capita emissions fell for all groups, but even these were very unevenly distributed, with the richest one per cent barely reducing their per capita emissions at all.
  • To meet the 1.5-degree target, the richest one per cent in Sweden need to reduce their emissions by 95 per cent in less than ten years, from 43 tonnes per person per year Emissions for the richest 10 per cent need to be reduced by about 87 per cent, from about 17 tonnes per person per year. The per capita reduction rate for this group needs to be about 20 times faster than between 1990 and 2015. By contrast, those on the lowest incomes need to more than halve their emissions from around 4.5 tonnes per person.

Robert Höglund, Head of Communications at Oxfam Sweden, says:
"Climate inequality is high both globally and in Sweden. Our consumption is unsustainable and unequal. Sweden now needs to introduce targets and instruments that ensure that both total emissions are reduced to sustainable levels and that those who emit the most also do the most."

The report points out that the main difference between income groups is that high-income earners travel more. Air travel and driving account for half of the emissions of those Swedes who emit the most carbon dioxide. The fact that Swedes are buying bigger and heavier cars, such as SUVs, is also part of the problem.

An example of a policy instrument that takes into account the equity aspect highlighted in the report is a levy and a dividend: an additional levy on particularly emission-intensive services and goods - such as air travel and heavy passenger cars - could be introduced, with the revenue then distributed equally to the population. Those with high emissions would pay more in charges than they get back, but those with low emissions would get more money in their wallets. Such a measure could both reduce emissions by providing financial incentives to emit less, and increase climate justice by making high emitters pay the most. In Canada, a variation of this has been introduced.

Oxfam also points out that Sweden and other countries with historically high emissions also have a responsibility to pay to counteract the effects of warming. In the report, Oxfam calls for low-income countries to have access to climate finance in order to build their economies sustainably and to receive support to deal with the effects of the climate crisis through climate aid, and for Sweden to provide its climate aid in addition to the regular one percent aid.

Oxfam also calls on Sweden to ensure a fair climate transition within the country, taking into account that those with the highest emissions must also reduce their emissions the most in percentage terms, and to set an overall target that ensures that the climate impact of consumption is close to zero or net zero by 2050 at the latest.