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Carbon footprint of world’s wealthiest should be aggressively reduced, experts say

World leaders should aggressively reduce the carbon footprint of the wealthiest to curb the effects of climate change, experts have said.

It comes after a UN report found that the wealthiest 1 per cent pump more than twice times as much carbon into the atmosphere as the bottom 50 per cent. 

It is hardly the first time that wealthy figures have been accused of driving climate change with their lavish lifestyle choices.

Orlando Bloom, Katy Perry and Leonardo DiCpario were among a slew of well-heeled celebrities criticsed for attending a Google climate summit in Italy last year – arriving on private jets and yachts that left an estimated 800-tonne carbon footprint.

Katy Perry (centre left) and Orlando Bloom (centre right) were among a host of celebrities criticised over a Google climate conference in Italy last year that they attended via private jet and yacht (pictured, backs to camera, are Oprah Winfrey and Bradley Cooper)

Perry and Bloom had hitched a ride to the Sicilian conference on the Rising Sun, a massive private yacht owned by music and movie producer David Geffen (pictured rear)

Perry and Bloom had hitched a ride to the Sicilian conference on the Rising Sun, a massive private yacht owned by music and movie producer David Geffen (pictured rear)

DiCaprio, a UN climate ambassador, has previously been criticised for speaking out on the issue despite frequently flying on private jets, renting a yacht from an oil baron, and owning four houses.

Oxfam’s Confronting Carbon Inequality report singled out SUVs and frequent flying as two of the biggest drivers of the ‘1 per cent’ carbon footprint, with many billionaires known to own private jets.

Like the UN report, published this week, it found the top 1 per cent contribute significantly more to climate change than the bottom 50 per cent. 

Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, is known to get around on a $65 million Gulfstream jet and in October 2018 was pictured taking an SUV to the airport with then-mistress Lauren Sanchez before hopping on board the aircraft.

Billioanire Mark Cuban owns three jets – a Gulfstream that he uses as private transport and two Boeing business jets, one that he rents out as a charter and another that he uses to fly his basketball team around, Business Insider reported.

And despite producing eco-friendly electric cars via Tesla, Elon Musk’s love of private jets has previously made headlines after he flew 150,000 miles using a Gulfstream jet in 2018.

Other billionaires to own polluting vehicles are Russian oligarchs Roman Abramovich and Alisher Usmanov, owners of two of the world’s largest private yachts. 

Also criticised for attending the conference was Leonardo DiCaprio, who has previously come under fire for his use of private jets (pictured disembarking a jet in 2013)

Also criticised for attending the conference was Leonardo DiCaprio, who has previously come under fire for his use of private jets (pictured disembarking a jet in 2013) 

DiCaprio, a UN climate ambassador, has spoken out frequently on the issue over several years, despite criticism for some of his own lifestyle choices

DiCaprio, a UN climate ambassador, has spoken out frequently on the issue over several years, despite criticism for some of his own lifestyle choices

According to the UN, the richest will need to shrink their CO2 footprints significantly to avoid dangerous levels of global warming this century.      

The annual study, carried out by the UN Environment Programme (Unep), highlights the gap between the levels emissions should be at to keep temperatures down and current real-life levels.

It found that the world’s top 10% of earners devour about 45% of all energy consumed for land transport worldwide and 75% of that used for aviation. 

The world’s poorest 50% of households, meanwhile, consume just 10% and 5% respectively. 

In order to hit the target of restricting temperature rises this century to 1.5C, significant cuts will need to be made to the carbon footprints of the 1%, bringing them down to about 2.5 tonnes of CO2 per capita by 2030.    

‘This elite will need to reduce their footprint by a factor of 30 to stay in line with the Paris Agreement targets,’ Unep executive director Inger Anderson wrote in a foreword to the report.

‘The wealthy bear the greatest responsibility in this area,’ she added. 

Tim Gore, the head of climate policy at Oxfam and a contributing author to the report said that while the world’s richest were consuming the most, others were bearing the negative environmental effects.

Jeff Bezos

Roman Abramovich

Other ‘1 per cent’ figures to make frequent use of polluting vehicles are Jeff Bezos (left) who owns a $65m jet, and Roman Abramovich (right) owner of one of the world’s largest yachts

‘The UNEP report shows that the over-consumption of a wealthy minority is fuelling the climate crisis, yet it is poor communities and young people who are paying the price’. 

‘It will be practically and politically impossible to close the emissions gap if governments don’t cut the carbon footprint of the wealthy and end the inequalities which leave millions of people without access to power or unable to heat their homes,’ Gore said. 

According to the BBC, taking one less long-haul flight could reduce an individual’s CO2 consumption by almost two tonnes of CO2. 

Households that switch to renewable electricity can cut carbon by some 1.5 tonnes, while eating a vegetarian diet can save around half a tonne on average, it said.  

The report, published on Wednesday, also found that the positive environmental effects of lockdowns earlier this year intended to curb the spread of coronavirus are likely to be short lived.     

It predicted that carbon production will have fallen by around 7% this year because of the pandemic, but estimated the reduction would only curb warming by 0.01C by 2050. 

Rising temperatures are a contributing factor to wildfires which caused devastation in Australia, the Amazon and California (pictured) this year, along with other locations

Rising temperatures are a contributing factor to wildfires which caused devastation in Australia, the Amazon and California (pictured) this year, along with other locations

However, the report did highlight that countries have an opportunity to seek a greener mode of recovery from the pandemic. 

It found that if government’s invest in climate action, expected emissions for 2030 could be cut by 25%.

This would give a 66% chance of the planet keeping temperatures below 2C. 

‘The year 2020 is on course to be one of the warmest on record, while wildfires, storms and droughts continue to wreak havoc,’ said Inger Andersen.

‘However, Unep’s Emissions Gap report shows that a green pandemic recovery can take a huge slice out of greenhouse gas emissions and help slow climate change. 

‘I urge governments to back a green recovery in the next stage of Covid-19 fiscal interventions and raise significantly their climate ambitions in 2021.’

Green recovery has so far been limited, according to the report, though some countries have committed to net-zero emissions by 2050. 

However the ambition of the Paris Climate Agreement would need to be tripled in order to keep to the 2C goal and increased five-fold to meet the 1.5C target.


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