Wealthiest 1% uses up twice as much carbon as 3.1billion people, Asian emissions grow, worsening climate crisis and pollution

Thursday, September 24, 2020
Carbon Inequality Infographic

The richest one percent of the world’s population are responsible for twice as much carbon emission as the 3.1 billion people between 1990-2015. 

Across Asia, emissions have nearly doubled. Most of the added carbon is used up by the richest ten percent leaving the most impoverished worst hit by the climate crisis, while their share of carbon emissions is the lowest.  

In recent years, Asia and the planet have gotten hotter, with the continent being the epicenter of natural disasters and displacement of people due to disaster. Poorest and marginalized people have been hit hard by multiple extreme weather events in Indonesia, severe typhoons in the Philippines, and droughts across the Mekong delta. 

The wealthiest top decile of South East Asians in countries like the Philippines use up a third of the national carbon consumptions, more than the bottom half. The poorest twenty percent accounted for less than six percent of the total emissions in 2015.  In the same period, Indonesia’s carbon consumption has increased by 140 percent. Indonesia’s energy use has grown by 62.55 percent from 1990 to 2014 with a tenfold increase in electricity consumption in the last 20 years.

The Southeast Asia Energy Transition CSO Network is now releasing data on the shocking disparity and unsustainability of consumption emissions based on research by Oxfam and the Stockholm Environment Institute and drawing from the Global Carbon Atlas. It is released as world leaders come together at the UN General Assembly to discuss global challenges like the climate crisis. 

The analysis explores how consumption – from food to electricity and housing to air-travel – by different income groups adds carbon to the atmosphere. These emissions, in turn, heat the planet and increase disaster risk - especially for the most vulnerable people. 

While the prevailing global pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have resulted in a decline of emissions globally, they are likely to rebound rapidly as governments ease lockdowns and Asia returns to business as usual. 

“The call for equity in carbon consumption emissions is also a call for addressing economic inequality. These are intrinsically linked. Governments need to realize that addressing inequality means work across sectors including energy and power,” emphasized Siddharth Sreenivas, Oxfam in Asia’s Food & Climate Justice Campaign Lead. 

Lidy Nacpil, Coordinator of the Asian People’s Movement on Debt and Development, says, “We need to change how our energy is created and consumed. Our nations and leaders must commit to investing in renewable energy. It is economically better for us and our countries. Better for the planet and people. And can benefit all of us – including women, indigenous communities, and others often left-out – through distributed, decentralized, and democratized energy systems.”

If our region – one of the fastest-growing in the world – fails to contribute, the planet will heat up by another 1.5OC by 2030, a tipping point with no return. The cut back of emissions by the top decile and ending investment and generation of fossil-fuel energy are essential in keeping the planet’s temperature at levels required for human survival.  The carbon inequality is so stark that the wealthiest ten percent globally would alone push the temperature beyond the tipping point by 2033, even if all other emissions were eliminated.

“As the South East Asia Energy Transition CSO Network, we call on our governments to tackle the growing inequality and the climate crisis by shifting to renewable energy urgently. We need equitable economic systems that prioritize the needs of poor, women, and vulnerable communities. 

“There must be checks to excessive consumption by the richest – including higher taxes, putting curbs luxury carbon consumption like aviation and SUVs. Revenues should be urgently invested in public services. Low-carbon energy can also create jobs and help end poverty,” said Siddharth Sreenivas.


Notes to editor

The media brief ‘Confronting Carbon Inequality’ by Oxfam International and the full research report and data on which is it based is available here.

National Data for Phillippines and Indonesia 


• Between 1990 and 2015, the richest 10% in the Philippines emitted about a third of the cumulative carbon emissions (33%), the middle 40% less than half (44%) and the poorest 50% only about a fifth (22%).

• Between 1990 and 2015, national carbon emissions have increased by 0.079 GtCO2 (or by 134%) to reach 0.14 GtCO2 in 2015. This is partly due to population growth but also because of an increase in average per capita carbon footprints.

• Almost a third of that emission growth (29.6%) was due to the richest 10% of the Filipino population alone. About a fifth of emission growth was due to the richest 5% alone (19.4%). The poorest 20% only contributed to 6% of the emission growth during the same period. 

• The high-income groups keep generating a disproportionate share of carbon emissions. Based on 2015 data, the richest 10% emit about a third of national carbon emissions (31%) – more than the poorest 50% (23%). The richest 10% have an average per capita carbon footprint which is four times as high as the average footprint of the poorest 50% (4 tCO2 compared to 1 tCO2).


• The cumulative emissions between 1990 and 2015 have reached 8.4 GtCO2.

• Between 1990 and 2015, national carbon emissions have increased by 0.38 GtCO2 to reach 0.53 GtCO2 in 2015. This is partly due to population growth but also because of an increase in average per capita carbon footprints. Between 1990 and 2015, average per capita carbon footprints have more than doubled to reach 2.1 tCO2 in 2015.

• There has been a tenfold increase in electricity consumption in the last 20 years.

About the Research

The research is based on estimations of consumption emissions from fossil fuels i.e. emissions consumed within a country including emissions embodied in imports and excluding emissions embodied in exports.  National consumption emissions were divided between individual households based on the latest income distribution datasets and a functional relationship between emissions and income. This assumes, on the basis of numerous studies, that emissions rise in proportion to income above a minimum emissions floor and until a maximum emissions ceiling. National household consumption emissions estimates - for 117 countries from 1990 to 2015 - are then sorted into a global distribution according to income. More details on the methodology is available in the research report. 

The South East Asia Energy Transition CSO Network comprises national civil society networks in Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines comprising international NGOs and national CSOs working to ensure an accelerated energy transition in the focus countries. 

Oxfam is a confederation of 20 independent charitable organizations focusing on the alleviation of global poverty.

Contact information: 

Siddharth Sreenivas | Food & Climate Justice Campaign Lead, Asia Platform

Oxfam International (Based in New Delhi, India)

+91 9741001013 | Skype: sid.sreenivas