Monday, January 4, 2016

Does Global Inequality Cause Climate Change or Vice-Versa? Analysis with Policy Implications

P151214-1Progressives see climate change and economic inequality as two of the big problems of our time. As the global aid organization Oxfam points out in a recent media briefing paper, “Extreme Carbon Inequality,” the two are “inextricably linked.” But just what is the nature of the linkage? Does inequality cause climate change? Does climate change cause inequality? Is there an inherent tradeoff between mitigation of climate change and reduction in global inequality, or is there a way to address both problems at once? These questions deserve a closer look.

Are the rich responsible for climate change?

The principal message of the Oxfam study is that that the rich are disproportionately responsible for climate change. As evidence, it supplies the following chart showing “lifestyle carbon emissions” by income class of global population. The report defines lifestyle emissions as those that arise from consumption of goods and services, with emissions from producing those goods attributed to the country in which consumption takes place, even if they are produced elsewhere.
The chart indicates that the poorest half of the global population is responsible for only 10 percent of total global emissions while nearly 50 percent can be attributed to the wealthiest 10 percent. The rich have average carbon footprints 11 times as high as the poorest half of the population, and 60 times as high as the poorest 10 percent.
I have no trouble with the proposition that wealthy consumers contribute more than proportionately to climate change, but to be fair, the Oxfam chart exaggerates that tendency, and in more than one way. >>>Read more

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