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Rich Individuals are a Catalyst for Climate Change, But the Poorest Pay for Their Debt

The ramifications of climate change are already manifesting around our world. According to data published by NASA’S Goddard Institute for Space Studies, our global temperature has increased by 1.1 Celsius since 1880 and is not slowing down. Human welfare and natural ecosystems are expected to suffer widespread negative impacts from increases of this magnitude, including economic, ecological, and social consequences.



The richest 10% contributed to over half the global emissions footprint in 2015, according to Oxfam. In comparison, the world's poorest are responsible for 7% of our world emissions, yet they are the ones who are suffering the most from climate change.


Climate change has already begun to make its mark on our world through the extreme weather that is already impacting people's lives. Threats to livelihoods are increasing due to a lack of food supplies, and the low rainfall results in low crop yields for farmers, destroying their livelihoods. Natural disasters are becoming more severe and common with the ability to destroy people's homes and separate families.


Climate change disproportionately impacts human welfare, as flood levels are likely to increase due to climate change, water scarcity in arid regions, and vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever may become more prevalent. Low- and middle-income tropical and subtropical countries suffer the greatest burden of vector-borne diseases. Although developing countries are the least responsible for climate change, they are expected to bear the brunt of its impact.


The climate crisis will amplify the inequalities experienced around the world as individuals will lose their homes and vocations combined with the increased food shortages, which will increase the number of climate refugees seeking asylum.


According to Mercy Corps, a humanitarian organisation, 250,000 people between 2030 to 2050 will die due to climate-related deaths. Moreover, individuals will face daily challenges for necessities such as water and shelter if the extreme weather continues at the rate it is heading. According to the World Bank, “unchecked climate change will push 140 million people into poverty over the next 10 years.”


Without action, climate change will tear through communities and people's lives; this threatens to jeopardize many of the development gains that have already been made. The unfair nature of this beast is that the people who are directly impacted are not the people who are hardly contributing to our global carbon footprint. The fault lies in the top 10% of the world. 


It is astounding when looking at the figures; according to the World Inequality Database, in the US, the poorest 50% of the population emits 10 tonnes of CO2 every year, whereas the richest produce 75 tonnes. The difference is sickening; Europe has a similar trend, with the poorest emitting 5 tonnes per person each year and the richest emitting 30 tonnes. 



We can see the disparities when looking at the mega-rich and celebrities with their unfathomable wealth yet hypocrisy regarding climate change. Kim Kardashian recently came under fire for taking a 17-minute flight that used 2 tons of CO2 after she had praised Greta Thunberg on her fight against climate change. There are levels to this issue; Kim Kardashian and other celebrities represent the highest level on the spectrum in regard to their involvement with this issue. They have unfathomable wealth and therefore live lifestyles with high costs. They have a duty due to their privilege to do more for climate change as their emissions have been the driving force of the climate crisis in recent years.


However, the average western citizen from Europe and North America who drives an SUV and has a high percentage of meat in their diet is also contributing and should alter their lifestyle as well. According to the Centre for Global Development, in the first two days of January, the average British citizen had produced more CO2 emissions than an individual from the Democratic Republic of Congo in a year. There is clear hypocrisy regarding climate change in the West, which must be addressed. The top 1% and the top 10% have a duty of care to the rest of the world to help curve the climate crisis’ trajectory. 


The effects of climate change are already harming people's lives, but those effects aren't felt equally throughout the world.


There have been attempts made to fix and slow down the rate of climate change with meetings such as the Paris summit in 2015 and, more recently, COP26. However, according to a report by the United Nations, most countries are still not hitting the 2030 climate goals set out in the Paris agreement. The WWF states that even in the middle of discussions at COP26, we are still set to rise above 2 degrees which will be cataphoric for people worldwide.


It is vital that the individuals in privilege who can help and make a difference do so along with more support from governments around the world in an attempt to reduce their carbon emissions. It takes both government policies and alterations to individuals' lifestyles to fix this crisis. 


There must be accountability and moral obligation for the top 1% and 10% to do more, as they are the main contributors, and therefore the responsibility lies in their hands. However, without government backing and stricter legislation regarding people's carbon footprints, it is on the individual's own initiative to evoke change and help the climate change crisis themselves.


                                                                                                                         Edited by Chanelle Jassim


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