New report reveals massive inequality in UK carbon emissions

Barry White

Little media coverage has been given to a recent report by Autonomy, which shows that the top 1% is responsible for the same amount of carbon emissions in a single year as the bottom 10% are in more than two decades. The report which was covered by The Guardian on 1 November, revealed that the data covered the period to the end of 2018, before the Covid 19 pandemic, which saw a great reduction flying, travelling and other high carbon activities.

“It would take 26 years for a low earner to produce as much carbon dioxide as the richest do in a year, according to Autonomy’s analysis of income and greenhouse gas data from 1998 to 2018, which found that people earning £170,000 or more in 2018 in the UK were responsible for greenhouse gas emissions far greater than the 30% of people earning £21,500 or less in the same year”, the newspaper reported.

The report’s findings show the stark differences in carbon footprints between the bulk of people, even in industrialised nations, and what has been dubbed “the polluting elite,” whose high-carbon lifestyles apparently feed the climate problem.

Autonomy also pointed out that if the UK had started taxing carbon emissions from just the top 1% of income groups two decades ago, it could have raised about £126bn by now, which could have gone towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions in an equitable way, for instance through home insulation for poorer households. It claims that with no such tax in place the top 1% has been free to ‘dump’ disproportionately large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, creating a burden now shouldered by the rest of the population.

The report was written by Luiz Garcia and Will Stronge and supported by the Alex Ferry Foundation and Subak (

You can find out more about Autonomy at:

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