How common is wealth

Wealth gives (greenhouse) gas

Your own car, your own villa, your own yacht: for several generations, goals in life - whether attainable or not - have materialized. (Photo: Skeeze / Pixabay)

Wealth acts as a climate killer. According to an analysis by the development organization Oxfam, the richest ten percent of humanity are primarily responsible for the increase in greenhouse gas emissions over the past three decades - and not, as is often assumed, the global middle class.

It's about the "top emitters" mostly from industrialized and emerging countries, who are often frequent flyers and owners of several properties and cars.

Oxfam publishes the report "Confronting Carbon Inequality"2-Inequality) on the occasion of the climate policy talks within the framework of the UN General Assembly in New York, which is currently underway.

The report analyzes the proportion of greenhouse gas emissions for which the individual income groups are responsible for 117 countries - summed up for the years between 1990 and 2015, which are important in terms of climate policy, in which the emissions of CO2, Methane, nitrous oxide, etc. have doubled worldwide. In 1990, at the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the World Climate Convention was adopted. Goal: to stabilize the world climate system.

According to the report, the richest 10 percent - an average of 630 million people a year - are responsible for around half (52 percent) of the greenhouse gas emissions emitted in the quarter of a century.

An important lever: traffic

The richest one percent alone damaged the climate twice as much as the poorer half of the world: It was responsible for 15 percent of the total emissions, while the poorer half only caused around seven percent.

Further evidence of inequality: of the global emissions budget that was still available in 1990, the richest ten percent consumed a third, while the poorer half of the world population consumed only four percent.

Greenhouse gas emissions by various global income groups over the past 25 years. The middle class (light green) has an annual income equivalent to around 5,000 and 32,000 euros. (Graphic: from the report)

The emissions budget quantifies the amount of greenhouse gases that mankind can still blow into the atmosphere without global warming rising above 1.5 degrees. This value is considered a limit to prevent uncontrollable climate change.

The 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change sets the maximum limit at two degrees, but calls for efforts to reach 1.5 degrees. It has already reached 1.1 degrees.

According to the Oxfam calculation, the richest ten percent of the world's population would have to reduce their average per capita emissions to a tenth of the previous value by 2030 in order to maintain 1.5 degrees. "This would reduce global emissions by a third overall," said the organization. Traffic is an important lever here.

Other recent studies have shown that the richest ten percent of households are responsible for almost half and three quarters of the energy consumption that is attributable to land and air traffic. The transport sector is responsible for around a quarter of global emissions, and the switch from traditional passenger cars to SUVs is the second largest driver of emissions between 2010 and 2018.

Oxfam is demanding taxes on SUVs and frequent flyers

Oxfam Germany calls for the "excessive CO2-Restricting emissions of the wealthy "." We have to solve the climate and inequality crisis together, "commented analyst Ellen Ehmke." Taxes on climate-damaging SUVs and frequent flying would be a first step. "

Governments should invest the revenues in climate-efficient mobility, in public infrastructures and services, and in social security. "This not only reduces emissions, it also helps to overcome poverty and inequality," said Ehmke. She criticized a policy that relies on consumption incentives, promises perpetual growth and economically divides the world into winners and losers.

Germany and its richest ten percent

The richest ten percent of the German population are responsible for 26 percent of the CO2Emissions that have been blown into the air in this country since 1990. The poorer half of the German population, which comprises five times as many people (41.5 million), consumed only slightly more (29 percent). In 2015, the richest ten percent were responsible for even more CO2 than the poorer half of the population.


The share of the German CO2Emissions, for which the richest 10 percent are responsible, rose from 25 to 29 percent between 1990 and 2015, while the share for the rest of the population either stayed the same or fell. This means that the richest damage the climate more than in 1990 compared to the rest of the population.


Overall, the per capita CO2-Emissions of the German population fell between 1990 and 2015 - from an average of 14.7 tons to 10.8. However, the value is still far too high. In order not to exceed the global emissions budget by 2030, a global average of 2.1 tons of CO would be2 necessary. The emissions of the richest ten percent in Germany were almost 15 times as much in 2015. The average per capita emissions of the poorer half of the German population still exceeded this value by almost three times.

On the problem of the "CO2-Inequality "had previously been pointed out by the well-known French economist Thomas Piketty and the German Club of Rome member Franz-Josef Radermacher.

In addition to political climate protection measures such as a CO2-Price also includes voluntary investments in the CO2-Compensation - especially from large companies and wealthy people who have a particularly climate-damaging lifestyle. The funds are to be used to finance projects in developing countries that avoid greenhouse gases or CO2 get them out of the atmosphere again - for example biogas plants, house insulation or reforestation.

Radermacher believes that the rich should be motivated to give part of their money to compensation. "According to studies, in the event of a climate catastrophe, substantial parts of property, for example stocks, will be destroyed worldwide, and this hits the wealthy particularly hard."

That means: "They endanger their own prosperity, but also their lifestyle, if they do nothing about climate change." Without such a turnaround, drastic political measures threatened sooner or later - such as legal bans on air travel, the shutdown of SUVs or high taxes on second or third homes.