Alison Barrett writes:
In his briefing to the General Assembly on Priorities for 2023 earlier this week, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called for strong action to address the “confluence of challenges” that are “staring down the barrel” at us.
He referred to rising nuclear threats, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, increasing digital inequalities, extreme wealth contrasted with extreme poverty and the “runaway climate catastrophe”.
“2023 is a year of reckoning. It must be a year of game-changing climate action,” Guterres said.
“We must focus on two urgent priorities [in addressing the climate crisis]: cutting emissions and achieving climate justice.”
The resounding call for action came within a week of the release of the Climate Inequality Report 2023 by the World Inequality Database that highlighted a new trend of carbon inequalities within countries.
“While cross-country emission inequalities remain sizeable, overall inequality in global emissions is now mostly explained by within-country inequalities by some indicators,” the authors wrote.
Additionally, the impacts from climate emergencies are “strongly linked to income and wealth” within countries as well as between countries.
“Studies point to a strong socio-economic relationship between exposure (and especially vulnerability) and current living conditions, whereby the worst off are more affected than the rest” and often have a reduced capacity to adapt.
This is noticeable in Australia where the significant floods of 2022 disproportionately impacted people living in rural and remote communities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The report shows that people on lower incomes contribute far less to carbon emissions – people in the global top 10 percent [of wealth ownership] account for almost half [48%] of global carbon emissions.
Similar findings were reported in a recent Oxfam report – “A billionaire emits a million times more carbon than the average person, and billionaires are twice as likely as the average investor to invest in polluting industries like fossil fuels”.
Conversely, reducing carbon emissions from the top emitters can help lift people out of poverty, according to the Climate Inequality Report.
Carbon budgets needed to eradicate poverty below the US$5.50 per day poverty line are equal to approximately one-third of the current emissions attributable to the top 10 percent of global emitters, according to the report.
To reduce climate inequalities, the authors of the Climate Inequality Report argue that social justice needs to be better integrated into the design of climate policies.
They are confident that observed trends in climate inequality do not need to persist…if the key drivers of climate inequality are tackled with the tools already available.
“We view global warming as one of the greatest market failures in history” – as such, their recommendations to address climate inequalities are mainly focused on public policies.
- all governments to reconsider their targets – additional efforts are required from the largest emitters
- improve integration of inequality concerns with adaptation and mitigation policies
- ensure that universal access to clean energy, healthcare and education “must be unambiguous objectives of any green development agenda”
- remove fossil fuel subsidies which could enable more resources for “socially targeted adaptive measures”
- progressive taxation policies including relatively modest taxes on the top wealth holders, which “could yield hundreds of billions of dollars of tax revenues every year given the very high level of wealth concentration”
- high-income countries need to honour pledges to raise international development aid including the Loss and Damage Fund.
With predictions of higher temperatures and more extreme weather across the globe in 2023, it is imperative that governments take heed of these warnings – and urgently adopt recommended policies – to ensure climate inequalities are not exacerbated.
Recent publications on economic inequalities and climate change:
Drastic economic reform needed to address climate change, by Emeritus Professor David Shearman AM, in John Menadue’s Public Policy Journal
The new climate denial? Using wealth to insulate yourself from discomfort and change, by PhD candidate Hannah Della Bosca, in The Conversation
Amid calls for “billionaire busting policies” globally, these national consultations could help address health inequalities, by Dr Joanne Flavel, in Croakey
Read the The Lancet article here.
See Croakey’s extensive archive of articles on climate and health.