Rich people most to blame for climate change, international study finds

‘Large inequality in international energy footprints’ driven partly by spending on holidays and fuel

Zoe Tidman
Tuesday 17 March 2020 18:44
Greta Thunberg condemns EU climate change plan as 'surrender'

The lifestyles of the world’s richest could be to blame for the climate crisis, according to researchers.

The more money people have, the greater their energy footprint, the study found - a trend which the authors said was replicated across the world.

Researchers from the University of Leeds said that, among all 86 countries and income classes studied, the top 10 per cent consumed about 20 times more energy than the bottom 10 per cent.

“Our results consequently expose large inequality in international energy footprints,” the authors concluded.

The study looked at energy consumption through the lens of energy directly used, as well as the amount “used to manufacture and transport traded products”, according to Julia Steinberger, one of the researchers.

She said their work found that “richer households, around the world, tend to spend their extra [money] on energy intensive products”, such as package holidays and fuel for their cars.

Spending on transport – land, air and water – was one of the most important factors in this difference, the professor at the School of Earth and Environment said.

The top 10 per cent of consumers used more than half of the total energy related to travel, with the majority of it based on fossil fuel, found the research - published in scientific journal Nature Energy.

“Without reducing the energy demand of these services, either through frequent-flyer levies, promoting public transport and limiting private vehicle use, or alternative technology such as electric vehicles,” lead author Yannick Oswald said, ”the study suggests that as incomes and wealth improve, our fossil fuel consumption in transport will skyrocket.”

The researchers found that energy used for cooking and heating was consumed in a more equal manner across income groups.

The study also found that energy consumption was distributed unequally across countries.

Twenty per cent of UK citizens belonged to the top 5 per cent of energy consumers across the world, compared to 100 per cent of Luxembourg’s and 2 per cent of China‘s populations.

Meanwhile, the poorest 20 per cent of the UK used up more than five times the amount of energy than 84 per cent of India, according to a University of Leeds statement about the work.

“There needs to be serious consideration to how to change the vastly unequal distribution of global energy consumption,” Professor Steinberger said, ”to cope with the dilemma of providing a decent life for everyone while protecting climate and ecosystems.”

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