“There can be no exit from carbon without real redistribution of income and assets”

Tribune. The COP26 started in Glasgow (Scotland). Let’s say it up front: our chances of keeping global temperature rise 2 ° C below pre-industrial levels are not good. The continuation of current trends is pushing us towards a warming of at least 3 ° C by the end of the century. The paradox is that popular support for climate action has never been stronger. According to a vast United Nations investigation, the vast majority of people in rich and poor countries alike see climate change as a real emergency. Where are we on the wrong track?

There is a fundamental unthought around climate debates: inequalities. Low-income households anticipate that the climate policies offered to them could hurt their standard of living. The carbon lobby uses this argument to slow down any progress and decision-makers fear electoral sanction if they try to pick up the pace. This vicious circle has cost us decades of action. The good news is that we can end it by taking the issue of inequality head-on.

The responsibility of the richest 10%

Let’s look at the facts first: 10% of the world’s population is responsible for about half of all greenhouse gas emissions, while the bottom half of the population contributes only 12% of total emissions. It’s not just a rift between rich and poor countries: there are huge emitters in poor countries and low emitters in rich countries. In France, the poorest half emit around 5 tonnes per person, while the richest 10% emit around 25 tonnes.

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Where do these huge inequalities come from? The rich emit more carbon through their so-called “direct” emissions, but also and above all through their “indirect” emissions, through the goods and services they buy, as well as through the investments they make. Why do we need to pay more attention to these gaps? After all, shouldn’t we all be reducing our emissions? Certainly, but the biggest polluters should logically make more efforts. It seems to go without saying, but in reality it is otherwise.

We saw this in particular during the “yellow vests” crisis, when the government wanted to increase the carbon tax without redistributing its revenues to low-income households or worrying the consumption or investment habits of the better-off. Among low-income households, there were many who had no way of reducing their gasoline consumption. At the same time, the air kerosene used by the better-off to go to the Côte d’Azur remained duty-free. The icing on the cake: part of the revenue from the carbon tax actually financed tax gifts to the richest. Such a way of implementing climate policies, in direct opposition to the social question, is doomed to failure.

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“There can be no exit from carbon without real redistribution of income and assets”