Global Carbon Inequality 1990-2019

Global Carbon Inequality 1990-2019: The Impact of Wealth Concentration on the Distribution of World Emissions

Lucas Chancel

First draft: November 2021

This version: May 2022

All humans contribute to climate change but not in the same proportions. This paper estimates the global inequality of individual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions between 1990 and 2019, using a newly assembled data set of income and wealth inequality, and Environmental Input-Output tables and a framework distinguishing between emissions from consumption and investments. I find that the bottom half of the world population emits 12% of global emissions, while the top 10% emits 48% of the total in 2019. Since 1990, the global top 1% has been responsible for 23% of all emissions and the bottom 50% for only 16% of the total. While per capita emissions of the global top 1% increased since 1990, emissions from low and middle income groups in rich countries declined. As a result, 63% of the global inequality in individual emissions is now due to gaps between low and high emitters within countries rather than between countries. In 1990, the situation was the reverse. The paper finds that emissions from investments, rather than from consumption, represent 70% of total emissions from the global top 1%. These findings have implications for contemporary debates on fair climate policies and stress the need for more systematic individual emissions data production efforts by governments.