Tackling inequality, the climate crisis and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the economic fallout it has unleashed, have dominated our headlines and our consciousness over the last six months, while exposing our broken, unprepared, and inequal global system.

At the same time, devastating wildfires in Oregon and California, a frightening derecho in Iowa, huge locust swarms and widespread flooding in East Africa, and deadly cyclones in India and Bangladesh, have continued to remind us that the climate crisis is continuing even as we’re battling a COVID-19 crisis. The stark inequalities that the pandemic has cast a spotlight on are what also drive the climate crisis.

In a jarring new report, Oxfam has calculated that the richest one percent of the world’s population are responsible for more than twice as much carbon pollution as the 3 billion people who made up the poorest half of humanity in the last 25 years. And in further injustice, it is the poorest and most marginalized people who are hardest hit by climate change.

“The over-consumption of a wealthy minority is fueling the climate crisis, yet it is poor communities and young people who are paying the price,” said Tim Gore, Head of Climate Policy at Oxfam and author of the report. “Such extreme carbon inequality is a direct consequence of our governments decades long pursuit of grossly unequal and carbon intensive economic growth.”

Oxfam also calculated that the richest 10 percent accounted for over half (52 percent) of the emissions added to the atmosphere between 1990 and 2015 when humanity doubled the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In addition, Oxfam estimated that the total increase in emissions of the richest one percent was three times more than that of the poorest 50 percent.

While carbon emissions have temporarily slowed down because of COVID 19-related lockdowns, they are likely to rebound quickly as restriction ease. But if carbon inequality is left unchecked, the remaining carbon budget for 1.5C will be entirely depleted by 2030. Because of these inequalities, the richest 10 percent would blow the carbon budget by 2033 even if all other emissions were cut to zero.

But the COVID-19 crisis has also shown us that governments can ramp up dramatic emergency actions in the face of a crisis — if they choose to. That’s why Oxfam is calling on governments to tackle the twin crises of climate and inequality at the heart of recovery efforts from the COVID-19 pandemic. Our leaders have a historic but final opportunity to start building fairer economies within the limits of our planet, creating decent jobs that people need now and strengthening the resilience of the most vulnerable to future shocks, while safeguarding our climate for future generations.

“Simply rebooting our outdated, unfair, and polluting pre-COVID-19 economies is no longer a viable option,” continued Gore. “Governments must seize this opportunity to reshape our economies and build a better tomorrow for us all.”

The election will be crucial to decide whether the US lives up to our values. If you want action on climate change and economic inequality, you must exercise your right to vote. And make sure your friends, family members, and neighbors vote. Take action now.

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