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Just 1 percent of the global population is responsible for nearly a quarter of carbon emissions since 1990, according to new research.

The study estimated emissions from individuals’ consumption and their financial investments, as well as from government spending in their country. “Individuals can consume carbon, but they can also own [and invest in] firms that produce carbon,” Lucas Chancel, an economist at the Paris School of Economics and lead author of the study, told Carbon Brief. Investments accounted for the bulk of emissions from the wealthiest individuals.

From 1990 to 2019, the bottom half of emitters was responsible for just 16 percent of emissions, while the top 1 percent was responsible for 23 percent. The findings were published in the journal Nature Sustainability.

The gap between rich and poor is driven less by inequality between countries than by inequality within countries, particularly wealthy countries, the researchers concluded. While the top 1 percent globally saw their emissions grow 26 percent over the study period, emissions actually declined by 5 to 15 percent among low and middle earners in wealthy nations.

Said Chancel, “Economic inequality within countries continues to drive a lot of the dynamics that we observe in terms of pollution.”


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