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23rd Apr 2021

EU's richest 10% responsible for over quarter of emissions

  • 'EU carbon reductions have been delivered by poorer Europeans while the richest have had a free ride' said the co-author of the report (Photo: European Parliament)

The wealthiest 10 percent of EU citizens emitted the same amount of carbon dioxide as the poorer half of the bloc between 1990 to 2015, according to new research published on Tuesday (8 December).

This share of the population, comprising 43.6 million EU citizens with gross incomes above €41,000 per year, were responsible for 27 percent of EU emissions.

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Emissions have fallen by around 12 percent over this 25-year period, but reduction efforts were not shared equally among EU citizens.

Since 1990, emissions dropped by nearly 40 percent among poorer and middle-income families in the EU. By contrast, the emissions of the richest 10 percent increased by three percent.

The report, compiled by Oxfam and the Stockholm Environment Institute, warns that the wealthiest portion of EU's population has a per-capita carbon footprint over 10 times higher than the level needed to meet the international climate commitments, under the Paris agreement.

In 2015, the wealthiest 10 percent of EU citizens from Germany, Italy, France and Spain were responsible for emitting more carbon dioxide than the entire population of 16 other member states combined.

Additionally, the richest 10 percent of Polish citizens (nearly four million people) were accountable for more emissions than the entire population of countries like Sweden or Finland due to the country's dependency on coal.

While the richest one percent of Luxembourgers, those who have a gross income over €89,000 a year, have a carbon footprint 26 times higher than the EU average - being among the highest-emitters in the world.

In fact, per-capita emissions of the wealthiest 10 percent of Belgian citizens are also very high, nearly twice as high as the richest 10 percent in China or the UK.

'Provided by the poor'

"EU carbon reductions have been delivered by poorer Europeans while the richest have had a free ride. But now everyone must pull their weight to achieve the deeper emission cuts needed over the next decade," said the report co-author, Tim Gore, who is also Oxfam's head of climate policy.

"The Green Deal can target the emissions of the richest while directly benefiting lower-income Europeans," he added.

This week EU leaders aim to reach an agreement over whether to cut emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030, up from a current target of 40 percent.

Once the new target is adopted, the EU will be able to submit a new climate pledge under the Paris climate agreement before the end-of-year deadline.

However, the Oxfam report points out that achieving the deeper emissions cuts needed by 2030 will require "a much greater focus on measures to address the excessive carbon consumption of the richest EU citizens".

Air travel and car journeys are responsible for the largest share of the carbon footprint of the highest-emitting Europeans, while heating and food are mainly responsible for the emissions from lower-income groups.

"The climate problem cannot be solved if luxury consumption continues to grow and if poverty remains unaddressed - it is neither mathematically nor politically realistic," said Sivan Kartha from the Stockholm Environment Institute.

The EU, responsible for around 15 percent of global consumption emissions, is home to only seven percent of the world's population.

EU emissions down 24% on 1990 - but still off 2030 target

Emissions regulated under the EU's carbon market fell by 9.1 percent in 2019, although aviation emissions continued to increased. Meanwhile, the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to lead to "an unprecedented fall in emissions" in 2020.

EU's 2030 climate target left for December summit

EU leaders agreed on Thursday evening to increase the EU's climate ambition for the next decade "collectively". Roughly half of EU countries support a 55-percent emission-reduction target, but now aim to adopt a specific target in December.

MEPs ignore Commission to vote for 60% climate target

The European Parliament voted in favour of a 60-percent emissions-reduction target by 2030 in the first-ever EU climate law. MEPs also supported an interim 2040 target, and making the EU's 2050 climate-neutrality target binding for each member state.

MEPs agree carbon border tax - heavy industries protected

Green groups warned that if heavy industry continues to receive free allowances even after a carbon border levy is in place, this would essentially be a double subsidy for those sectors. "The European Commission must correct this," the WWF warned.

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