Ending world poverty doesn't have to put global goals to fight climate change at risk. A major study published in Nature Sustainability reveals that bridging the global wealth gap doesn't add much to the world's greenhouse gas emissions.
That's in part to the incredible chasm that exists between the emissions of the world's wealthiest with that of the world's poorest populations, according to the study.
The massive study has revealed that the average carbon footprint of an individual living in sub-Saharan Africa is only 0.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide (tCO2). Compare that with the whooping 14.5tCO2 average American pollutes, and it's abundantly clear where the problem truly lies.
It's no secret that humans produce tens of billions of tonnes of CO2 in the atmosphere every year, but these emissions are disproportionately unequal. The study discovered that the average carbon footprint created by the top 1% was over 75 times higher than the bottom 50%.
The truth is, carbon emissions are higher in wealthier nations with a more carbon-inclusive lifestyle.
The authors found that eradicating “extreme poverty” by lifting everyone over the US$1.90 per day threshold would only drive up global carbon emissions by less than 1%.
“Carbon inequality is a mirror to extreme income and wealth inequality experienced at a national and global level today,” the study stated.
To meet targets outlined in the Paris Agreement, the study investigated how the average carbon footprint of these countries line up with the agreement's goals.
The study utilizes "outstandingly detailed" global expenditure data from 2014's World Bank Consumption Dataset to assess people's carbon footprint in differing nations.
Dr. Yuli Shan, an author from the study and an environmental fellow at the University of Groningen, states that by using consumption data, they can pinpoint more emissions from nations that use goods and services instead of producing them. This is because poor countries emit large quantities of CO2 due to the behavior of people in developed countries", he added.
The map below details the 116 countries included in the study and showcases their average carbon footprint from low (blue) to red (high). Interestingly enough, the study found that Luxembourg had the highest carbon footprint at 30tCO2 per person, with the US as a close second at 14.5tCO2.
Meanwhile, countries such as Madagascar, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Burkina Faso have an average carbon footprint of less than 0.2tCO2.
Furthermore, the authors separated the populations into groups within each country based on average spending. Previous studies used four to five different groups, and this study had over 200. This allowed the authors to have a much more accurate and precise analysis.
"The inequality is just insane," the lead author told Carbon Brief. "If we want to reduce our carbon emissions, we need to do something about the consumption patterns of the super-rich."