The ultra-rich and the climate in three questions

The ultra-rich and the climate in three questions

While it has long focused on the issue of the concentration of wealth, the Laboratory on Global Inequalities (WIL), co-directed by economists Lucas Chancel and Thomas Piketty, this time devotes an entire report, published on Tuesday January 31, to the climate issue, with an innovative methodology, published a few months ago in the journal Nature.

► Who are the biggest emitters?

“All individuals contribute to global emissions, but not in the same way”, the authors pose straight away. Their weight depends greatly on their income.

On the one hand, the richest 10% contribute nearly half of global emissions. To give an order of magnitude, the WIL estimates that a French person – non-owner and single – enters this world top 10% from a monthly income before tax of €3,120. Emissions are even more concentrated among the top 1%, which contributes 16.5% of global emissions. On the other side of the scale, the poorest 50% contribute only 11.5% of emissions.

The report obviously highlights the inequalities between countries, at the heart of the current tensions between North and South during international climate negotiations. Today, on an individual scale, an average North American emits 20.8 tonnes of CO2 per year, while a European emits 9.7, a Chinese 8 and an Indian 2.2.

What is most unprecedented is the demonstration of inequalities within countries themselves, more glaring than those observed between nations. In the United States, the richest 10% emit 7 times more than the poorest 50%, in Europe 6 times more, in France 5 times. In China, this ratio is around 13.5. In Europe, while the average emissions are 9.7 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per inhabitant, the poorest half emit around 5 tonnes of CO2 per capita.

Opposite, the poorest are also the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change: exposure to heat waves, floods, disease. By 2100, many low-income regions of the world will face agricultural productivity losses of 30% (or more) due to climate change. Some of these countries could face losses equivalent to or greater than more than 80% of GDP, due to the impacts of climate change. This unequal vulnerability to extreme events is also observed even within the most advanced countries.

► What is the consequence of these inequalities?

Apart from a “obvious concern for fairness”the authors believe that the question should encourage us to rethink the financing of the transition, basing it on the ability to invest. “For example, billions of dollars are missing for adaptation to climate changenotes Lucas Chancel. We believe that taxing extreme wealth, even at low rates, would partially address the problem. »

In the countries of the South (excluding China), there is currently a lack of 1,800 billion dollars per year between now and 2030 for adaptation to climate change and the transition. The authors of the report estimate that introducing a progressive tax (between 1.5% and 3%) on the wealth of the wealthiest 0.1% in the world would generate $1.1 trillion a year. Taxing centimillionaires alone (who have wealth over 100 million euros) would generate, in Europe and the United States alone, 175 billion dollars a year.

Besides the question of the ultra-rich, the authors note that transfers between countries will not be enough to fully finance the transition. They plead for greater tax progressivity, particularly in the countries of the South, where inequalities are most glaring, but also propose better taxing – and redistributing – of the profits of multinationals.

► Can we reconcile economic development and the fight against climate change?

The authors oppose the idea that economic development and the eradication of poverty can jeopardize the global objectives of reducing greenhouse gases.

Admittedly, the exit from poverty of a part of the population would result in an increase in emissions of the order of 18% if everyone exceeded the threshold of 5.50 dollars per day, according to the scenarios modeled by economists. What, in the eyes of the authors of the report “remains low compared to what the main emitters emit”.

It tells them that eradicating poverty – while difficult – is neither out of reach nor prevented because of the fight against climate change. “If the world’s top emitters were to take their fair share of climate change mitigation efforts and emissions were drastically reduced at the top”this would leave a margin for the poorest populations.


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