A new report has pointed the figure at the world’s wealthiest people with the authors arguing that they need to do a lot more in the battle to prevent climate change.
It says that the wealthiest 1% produce double the combined carbon emissions of the poorest 50%. Also that a polluter elite of the wealthiest 5% alone contributed 37% of emissions growth between 1990 and 2015.
The report’s authors are calling for wealthy people to look again at their lifestyle and have challenged the UK government to look again at recent changes it has made that impact on climate change.
In particular, the team behind the report, the Cambridge Sustainability Commission on Scaling Behaviour Change, want to deter the wealthy from buying high carbon-emitting SUVs while at the same time reducing the number of times they fly. They also call for them to insulate their homes.
The group, which is made up of a panel of 31 individuals were asked to find the most effective way of scaling up action to tackle carbon emissions. They concluded that while technology has a key role to play, changes in behaviour especially among the wealthy were essential.
The lead author of the report, Prof Peter Newell, from Sussex University, told the BBC: “We are totally in favour of technology improvements and more efficient products – but it’s clear that more drastic action is needed because emissions keep going up.
“We have got to cut over-consumption and the best place to start is over-consumption among the polluting elites who contribute by far more than their share of carbon emissions.
“These are people who fly most, drive the biggest cars most and live in the biggest homes which they can easily afford to heat, so they tend not to worry if they’re well insulated or not.
“They’re also the sort of people who could really afford good insulation and solar panels if they wanted to.”
Prof Newell was also critical of schemes with offset carbon emissions which might encourage the wealthy to think they had a free pass to continue their current behaviour.
“Rich people who fly a lot may think they can offset their emissions by tree-planting schemes or projects to capture carbon from the air. But these schemes are highly contentious and they’re not proven over time.
The wealthy, he said, “simply must fly less and drive less. Even if they own an electric SUV that’s still a drain on the energy system and all the emissions created making the vehicle in the first place”.
The authors were also dismayed by recent UK government legislation that they believe has had a negative impact on reducing climate change emissions.
They are urging the government to reverse its decision to scrap air passenger duty on UK return flights, and also to reinstate the Green Homes Grant scheme which was scrapped recently.
The UK government has been heavily criticised in recent weeks for a series of moves that some environmentalists believe have undermined its green credentials.
With the UK set to host the climate conference Cop26 in November, recent agreements to extend coal, oil and gas industries have been met with disappointment by British activities.