World's richest 1% emit as much carbon as 5 billion people, report says

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The "polluter elite" are disproportionately driving climate change, according to a new report — with the wealthiest 1% of people in the world putting out as much carbon pollution as the poorest two-thirds.

The report, by The Guardian, the international charity Oxfam and the Stockholm Environment Institute, found that climate change and "extreme inequality" have become "interlaced, fused together and driving one another."

Researchers found that of all the carbon emissions in the world in 2019, 16% was produced by the top 1% wealthiest people worldwide — a group that includes billionaires, millionaires and those who earn more than $140,000 a year. The analysis found their contribution "is the same as the emissions of the poorest 66% of humanity" — roughly 5 billion people.

The report also found that the richest 10% percent of people worldwide made up roughly half of emissions that year.

"It would take about 1,500 years for someone in the bottom 99% to produce as much carbon as the richest billionaires do in a year," Chiara Liguori, Oxfam's senior climate justice policy adviser said. "This is fundamentally unfair."

The amount of carbon dioxide emissions the top 1% was reported to have produced in 2019 — 5.9 billion tonnes — is enough to change global temperatures enough to lead to the deaths of an estimated 1.3 million people, the report says, citing a widely-used methodology known as "mortality cost of carbon."

The report also highlighted that just 12 of the world's richest billionaires have contributed nearly 17 million tonnes of emissions from their homes, transportation, yachts and investments — an amount it said was more than 4 1/2 coal power plants over the course of a year.

At the top of that list is Carlos Slim Helu, who according to Forbes has a net worth of $94.7 billion. He was followed by Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and luxury retail magnate Bernard Arnault.

Earth is "under siege"

Oregon State University ecology professor William Ripple, who is also the director of the Alliance of World Scientists, told CBS News that the report's methodology and findings are "broadly consistent with some recent peer-reviewed scientific literature on this topic."

"Carbon inequality and climate justice are major issues," he said. "To address climate change, we'll need to dramatically reduce inequality and provide support and climate compensation to less wealthy regions."

Last month, Ripple and a team of other scientists published a paper finding that Earth is "under siege" and "in an uncharted territory." They found several all-time high records related to climate change and "deeply concerning patterns of climate-related disasters." They also found that efforts to address these issues have had "minimal progress."

The Guardian and Oxfam report called for a number of steps to help humanity "break free from the climate and inequality trap," including a transition to renewable energy sources. It also suggested a 60% tax on the income of the worlds wealthiest 1%, which the report calculated would lead to a 700-million-ton reduction in global emissions.

U.N. report shows a dangerous "emissions canyon"

The report on the climate wealth gap came out the same day the United Nations issued its own new report on the cost of climate adaptation. The U.N. Environment Programme found that despite "clear signs" the risks from climate change are increasing, nations are falling further behind in the investments needed in response.

That "adaptation finance gap" is between $194 billion and $366 billion every year, the U.N. report found, saying there needs to be at least 50% more financial investment, and noting that developing countries have "significantly higher" costs and needs than others.

Greenhouse gas emissions — which trap heat in the atmosphere and drive warming — have increased 1.2% since last year, reaching record highs.

Sobering climate change report says we're falling short of promises made in Paris Climate Agreement

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres told reporters Monday that "if nothing changes, in 2030 emissions will be 22 gigatons higher than the 1.5 degree limit would allow" — referencing the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial times. It's expected that the world may surpass that level within the next five years.

"All of this is a failure of leadership, a betrayal of the vulnerable and a massive missed opportunity. Renewables have never been cheaper or more accessible," Guterres said. "...The report shows that the emissions gap is more like an emissions canyon — a canyon littered with broken promises, broken lives and broken records."

CBS News correspondent Pamela Falk contributed to this report. 

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