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Oxfam: Inequality behind the climate crisis

20 November 2023

Swedish greenhouse gas emissions are expected to increase for the first time in 20 years and Sweden has lost its leading role on climate change. At the same time, inequality between different groups in Sweden is increasing. New research from Oxfam Sweden and the Stockholm Environment Institute shows that emissions differ greatly between different income groups. Greater ambition and targeted measures are now required in the government's climate policy.

A private jet. Photo: Canva / Shirley, 11, picks up her canoe. Due to rising sea levels, she can no longer walk to school and has to travel far by canoe, alone. Solomon Islands, 2022. photo: Ivan Utahenua

"The richest are fueling the climate crisis while ordinary people are being hit hard. It is clear that not everyone is equally responsible for the climate crisis - and not everyone has the same capacity to change. Inequality is a deadly component of the climate transition that creates a breeding ground for political discontent and reduced trust in democracy. A successful climate transition must take this into account."

Hanna Nelson, report author and policy manager Oxfam Sweden

The report published today by Oxfam Sweden, with figures from the Stockholm Environment Institute,1 shows that the richest 1 percent of Swedes emit almost 10 times more carbon dioxide than the average of the 50 percent of Swedes with the lowest income.

"Swedish emissions must be drastically reduced. However, the large differences in emissions mean that a much larger reduction from high-income earners is required if Sweden is to have a chance of being in line with the Paris Agreement targets. The richest 1% of Swedes' emissions from consumption account for almost as much emissions as all the trucks in Sweden. This group must reduce their emissions by 93% within 7 years."

Astrid Nilsson Lewis, report author and climate researcher Oxfam Sweden

Figures in Oxfam Sweden's report show that the richest 10% of Swedes emit 22% of the country's consumption-based emissions.2 In other words, twice their share of the population. In contrast, the 50 percent with the lowest income accounted for only 32 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. Individuals from this group contribute the least to Swedish emissions, but have reduced their per capita emissions the most since 1990.

"The extreme difference in emissions between income groups is striking, both in Sweden and globally. The global report that Oxfam is also releasing today shows that the world's richest 1% emit as much as 5 billion people - two thirds of the world's population. At the same time, it is vulnerable communities and people living in poverty and vulnerability that are already hardest hit by the consequences of the climate crisis. This is a double injustice. The human suffering is enormous and Sweden can and must take responsibility."

Astrid Nilsson Lewis, report author and climate researcher Oxfam Sweden

Oxfam wants the government to put forward a climate policy that balances an immediate and comprehensive transition and emissions reduction with a comprehensive redistributive policy that reduces inequalities and polarization.

"Among other things, we propose a special tax on the very richest. This would both reduce their emissions and generate funding for the climate transition. An equal and fair climate transition is also necessary for the popular support that climate policy needs."

Hanna Nelson, report author and policy manager Oxfam Sweden

Oxfam Sweden also urges the government to limit economic growth in sectors that damage the climate and cause human suffering. Instead, invest public funds in sectors that promote an equitable transition such as green industries, sustainable and renewable energy, and prosperity for all.

Brief facts from the report Climate Equality - A Planet for the 99 %.

Oxfam and the Stockholm Environment Institute can demonstrate that internationally in 2019:

- the world's richest 10% emitted half of all emissions.

- the world's richest 1% emitted 16% of all emissions, as much as the poorest 66% of the world's population.

Short facts from the report Sweden's path to an equal and fair climate transition

Oxfam and the Stockholm Environment Institute can show that in Sweden in 2019:

- the richest 1% of Swedes released 6% of Sweden's emissions.

- the richest 10% of Swedes emitted 22% of Sweden's emissions, as much as the poorest 38% of the population.

- Almost 70% of the Swedish population belongs to the richest 10% of the world.

All figures refer to consumption-based carbon dioxide emissions and the population has been divided into income groups.