Best-off households emit four times more than poorest.
The Scottish Government has been told it must use its forthcoming budget to force the richest Scots to “clean up their acts” over damaging pollution, as new research shows Scotland’s wealthy are contributing more to the climate crisis.
The call comes from Oxfam Scotland with the Scottish Budget set to be unveiled on December 19.
A new report from the charity found that the richest one per cent of the world’s population produced as much carbon pollution in 2019 as the five billion people who made up the poorest two-thirds of humanity combined.
“Climate Equality: A Planet for the 99%” comes ahead of COP28, the upcoming UN climate summit in Dubai, amid growing fears that the 1.5°C target for curtailing rising temperatures appears increasingly unachievable.
Oxfam says the scale of carbon inequality reinforces the need to make the biggest and richest polluters pay for their damage, globally, across the UK, and in Scotland, with separate data showing the richest households in Scotland are also responsible for significantly disproportionate emissions.
Oxfam Scotland is urging the First Minister to place climate and social justice at the heart of the Scottish Government’s Budget in December to fairly raise the additional revenues needed to ensure the delayed Climate Change Plan delivers the robust and accelerated just transition that’s needed, while investing in poverty-reducing public services.
The organisation is also calling on the Prime Minister to use UK-level powers to tackle the twin crises of inequality and climate change by targeting the excessive emissions of the super-rich to boost investment in the delivery of the UK’s climate goals and vital public services.
Jamie Livingstone, head of Oxfam Scotland, said: “Climate culpability is crystal clear: around the world and here in Scotland, the climate crisis is being driven disproportionately by the excessive lifestyles of the richest people. Meanwhile, globally, people living in poverty, who have barely contributed to the climate emergency, are losing their lives, livelihoods, and homes.
“If the First Minister is to build and maintain critical public support for the depth and speed of transition that’s needed, climate action must be patently fair: that means he must do everything in his power to compel the richest to clean up their acts while paying the bill for the damage they’re causing.”
Separate analysis, published by think-tank Future Economy Scotland, has uncovered a similar, albeit less severe, trend of carbon inequality in Scotland, with the average carbon footprint of the richest 5% of households in Scotland 4.1 times greater than the poorest 5% of households. The analysis emphasises the disproportionate climate impact richer people have through their lifestyle choices, through things like frequent flying.
Oxfam Scotland says for the transition to net zero in the UK and Scotland to be fast and fair, it must be funded by taxing the biggest and richest polluters, while incentivising them to change their behaviour.
Recent analysis by Future Economy Scotland shows wide variations in the consumption emissions generated by Scotland’s highest and lowest income households across different types of consumption, with a particularly enormous gulf in the transport sector.
Their data shows that with regards to private transport (which includes private cars and motorcycles), the carbon footprint of the richest 5% of households was 10 times higher than the poorest 5% of households in the period 2017–2019. For aviation, the gap was even wider, with the carbon footprint of the richest 5% of households 11 times higher.
While the emissions generated in and from Scotland are falling, they are not doing so fast enough with the Scottish Government having missed eight of the last 12 legally binding targets to reduce Scotland’s territorial emissions. There are not yet targets to cut Scotland’s consumption emissions.
Laurie Macfarlane, co-director of Future Economy Scotland, said: “The pattern is clear: both in Scotland and across the world, climate change and inequality are inherently linked, with a strong correlation between household incomes and carbon footprints.
“This clear carbon inequality should be reflected in both the Scottish Government’s plans and policies as it seeks to get back on track in meeting its target of delivering a just transition to net zero by 2045. The First Minister must make a bold, concerted effort to ensure the costs of decarbonisation are shared in a way that’s fair and just, by showing he has both the political will and courage to make polluters pay.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson told the Herald: “The Scottish Government is committed to tackling the climate emergency urgently and fairly.
“While the majority of taxes remain reserved to the UK Government, we are committed to using the limited powers we do have to help meet our climate targets.
“Tackling poverty is one of the three missions at the heart of our Programme for Government and our 2024/25 Budget will be utilised to make progress to achieving this.”