Carbon inequality refers to the unequal distribution of carbon emissions within and across countries, stemming from income and wealth disparities. This disparity is reflected in varying consumption patterns and energy footprints based on purchasing power.
For example, the Oxfam report in 2020 revealed that the top 1% of the world’s population emits over twice as much CO2 as the bottom 50%. Similarly, the World Inequality report in 2022 indicated that the richest 10% of Indians emitted approximately 8.8 tonnes of CO2 per person in 2019, while the bottom 50% emitted only around 1 tonne per person.
Significance of Addressing Climate Inequality for India:
- Strengthening India’s Position on Multilateral Platforms: Addressing carbon inequality enables India to advocate for a fair transition for developing nations, considering historical responsibilities and the need for adequate time frames and financial assistance for climate change adaptation and mitigation.
- Promoting Carbon Equity by Addressing Unjust Climate Measures: Climate policies often disproportionately burden low-income consumers through carbon and energy taxes. A uniform carbon tax in India, for instance, grants more polluting rights to wealthy individuals who are less affected by carbon price increases than the poorer sections of society. Addressing this inequality promotes carbon equity.
- Achieving the Paris Climate Agreement: Tackling extreme inequality and targeting excessive emissions related to the consumption and investments of India’s and the world’s wealthiest individuals are crucial to achieving Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) and keeping the 1.5°C Paris goal alive.
- Designing Effective Climate Policies: Integrating environmental and social inequalities into India’s climate policy design is essential for the significant transformations required to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Disproportionate Impact on the Poor: Carbon inequality exacerbates the adverse effects of climate change on minority groups and low-income communities. Vulnerable groups in India experience disparate consequences from heatwaves, worsening air quality, and extreme weather events, leading to physical and mental health issues, as well as financial instability.
Steps to Address Climate Inequality:
- Systematic Assessment and Tracking: Public authorities should track individual emissions within countries and evaluate the beneficiaries and losers of climate policies.
- Increased Investment in Low-Carbon Infrastructure: Scaling up public investments in low-carbon energy production, transportation, and energy efficiency will facilitate a fair transition and empower lower-income groups to make environmentally-friendly choices.
- Progressive Wealth Taxes: Implementing progressive wealth taxes on polluting activities can accelerate divestments, reduce pollution from the wealthiest individuals, and generate resources for investments in low-carbon infrastructure.
- Global Carbon Incentive (GCI): Introducing a Global Carbon Incentive (GCI) would require countries exceeding the global average carbon emissions to annually contribute funds calculated based on excess emissions per person, population, and the GCI to a global fund.
- Social Dialogue: Incorporating principles of social dialogue at all levels ensures the well-being of workers in affected industries, women, low-income groups, and marginalized communities.
Given the escalating global emissions and the imminent risks of global warming and extreme climate events, addressing carbon inequality comprehensively is crucial. This entails acknowledging differentiated responsibilities and capabilities of developed and developing nations, as well as wealthy and economically disadvantaged individuals worldwide.