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Millionaires will burn through two-thirds of the world’s carbon budget by 2050, scientists warn

Millionaires will burn through the majority of the world's remaining carbon budget by 2050, research has warned.
Millionaires will burn through the majority of the world's remaining carbon budget by 2050, research has warned. Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Charlotte Elton
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Millionaire spending will make clean transition ‘less likely’, a new report has warned.

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Millionaires will burn through more than two-thirds of the world’s carbon budget over the next 30 years, new research has warned.

To limit global warming to below 1.5°C, we can only burn a certain amount of carbon.

But millionaire emissions alone will deplete 72 per cent of this allowance before 2050, according to a paper published in the latest Cleaner Production Letters journal.

“Continued growth in emissions at the top makes a low-carbon transition less likely, as the acceleration of energy consumption by the wealthiest is likely beyond the system's capacity to decarbonize,” the scientists warn.

The research coincides with the release of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which warns that a ‘liveable future’ requires urgent emissions cuts.

The “global poor” are disproportionately impacted by the consequences of global heating, warned report co-author Aditi Mukherji

“Climate justice is crucial because those who have contributed the least to climate change are being disproportionately affected,” he said.

What is the carbon budget?

According to the GLOBAL Carbon project, we have 380 billion tonnes of CO2 left in the world’s carbon budget.

This is the amount of carbon dioxide we can release and still have a 50 per cent chance of avoiding 1.5 degrees of warming.

Global greenhouse gas emissions reached 58 billion tonnes in 2022 alone. We will likely use up the carbon budget within nine years, after which point emissions will continue to rise.

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The poles are already melting, contributing to global flooding. This process is hastened by high-emissions activities like private jet flights.canva

How will millionaires eat into the climate budget?

To adjust for inflation, the report’s authors moved the threshold of what constitutes a ‘millionaire’ to people who have more than US$2.4 million (€2.24 million) in 2050.

Using growth trajectories for wealth between 1990-2020, they predict that there will be 318.2 million people with more money than this by 2050 - roughly 3.3. per cent of the global population.

Currently, millionaires make up 0.7 per cent of the global population.

The increase in wealthy people will have worrying climate ramifications.

Millionaires emit significantly more carbon than the rest of us. By 2050, they will release around 45 tonnes of CO2 per year each - cumulatively amounting to around 14.3 Gt CO2.

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Over 30 years, this emission total will be around 286 gigatonnes.

This is 72 per cent of our remaining climate budget. Combined with other emissions sources, it would mean the entire carbon budget will be used up by 2031.

How can we limit climate emissions from the wealthy?

The report concludes that addressing the ‘very wealthy’ will be a complex undertaking.

But with global heating intensifying, it is a moral and practical imperative.

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Most people don’t contribute much to climate change. But the top 10 per cent of global carbon emitters generate almost half of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Pressure is mounting on wealthy individuals like Bill Gates and Elon Musk to reduce their emissions by ditching private jets.

But we also need a systemic approach, such as “progressive taxes on emissions,” the report suggests.

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