Climate Inequality Report 2023: Fair taxes for a sustainable future in the Global South
The World Inequality Lab, a research organisation based in Paris, released this report on January 30, 2023. It was authored by Lucas Chancel and Philipp Bothe from the Paris School of Economics and Tancrède Voituriez from the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), Sciences Po, Paris. The report compiles the latest research on the unequal distribution of carbon emissions and climate impacts. It presents this along with data gained from interviews with experts in climate and development policy.
Highlighting how unequal carbon emissions are, it states that the richest 10 per cent of the world population contributes almost half of the total global emissions. However, it faces only a three per cent loss in income due to climate change. Conversely, the poorest 50 per cent people account for 12 per cent of the emissions but face around 75 per cent income loss.
Considering this, the report suggests introduction of progressive social and tax policies by governments worldwide. These would target the largest emitters while benefiting people who are most vulnerable to climate change.The 149-page report is divided into three chapters: Unequal contributions to climate change (Chapter 1); Unequal impacts of climate change (Chapter 2); and Tackling climate inequalities (Chapter 3).
The ability of individuals or regions to reduce emissions varies depending on the existing economic conditions. It is comparatively easier for individuals and organisations earning higher incomes to lower their carbon emissions than for those with lower incomes. The emissions of the latter are often primarily due to basic necessities like heating and commuting.
Historically, the contributions of countries and regions to global emissions have remained unequal, the report states. North America and Europe, despite having only a small fraction of the global population, have contributed to about half of all greenhouse gas emissions since 1850.
Unequal emissions persist even today. An average citizen of the United States of America has a carbon footprint ten times larger than the average Indian. If current global emissions were divided equally among the countries, those of a resident of the Democratic Republic of Congo would increase about 1000 per cent. Whereas European and North American citizens would see roughly 40 and 70 per cent decrease in their emissions, respectively.
As per the report, the poorest 90 per cent of the population in Nigeria and India has a carbon footprint low enough to meet the goal of limiting global warming to under 1.5°C. However, the richest 10 per cent people in India have annual carbon emissions of around 10 tonnes per capita – as much as a person in the European middle classes.
The report refutes the idea that ending conditions of poverty would drain the global carbon budget. A 2021 paper published in the journal Environmental Research Letters showed the energy required for fulfilling basic needs of the global population is just one-third of the overall energy consumption in the world today.
Citing 2018 research from the Science Advances journal, the report notes that poor countries will face the highest variations and fluctuations in temperature due to global warming. The increase in the mean temperature worldwide may also lead to extreme and adverse impacts on the agricultural outputs of these countries.
Almost a quarter (23 per cent) of the world's population is exposed to a considerable flooding risk. Due to high population and long coastlines, China and India have the highest number of people vulnerable to floods. The report also notes that nine out of the 10 countries most vulnerable to flooding are low or middle-income countries.
Citing a 2019 article from the journal Nature Microbiology, the report states that global warming has improved living conditions for dengue vectors like the Aedes mosquitoes. As many as 2.25 billion more people than in 2015 are predicted to face considerable risk of contracting dengue by 2080.
The effect of climate change is felt more strongly in the global south than in the global north, the report says. Economically, countries from the global south are faring worse than they would in the absence of climate change.
Climate policy needs to ensure universal access to clean energy, health care, and education in both rich and poor countries. Climate policies need to go hand in hand with ‘strengthening of the social state’, the report says.
The report recommends removing subsidies on fossil fuels and transferring those resources to adaptive measures. A gradual cutting back of subsidies is expected to result in fewer losses for low-income households if done alongside introduction of social reforms and assistance.
One of suggestions made by the report includes introduction of wealth taxes and taxing of excess profits. Such revenues will aid in financing ‘adaptation and mitigation’ measures without economically hurting people in lower-income groups.
Focus and Factoids by Saismit Naik.
Lucas Chancel, Philipp Bothe and Tancrède Voituriez
World Inequality Lab
30 Jan, 2023