UN efforts to lift 1bn people out of poverty will not hamper climate goals

A landmark study confirms world’s richest would remain the biggest contributors to emissions even if poorest experience significant social mobility.

The UN presented its Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, outlining aims to help around one eighth of the global population become more economically stable. Meanwhile, the Paris Agreement on climate change was ratified the same year, with many suggesting the two could not co-exist due to the correlation between wealth and emissions. 

Now Benedikt Bruckner, a Masters student at the Energy and Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Groningen, Netherlands, has developed new research suggesting the two can co-exist.

In collaboration with colleagues in China and the US, the team used a new Consumption and Poverty Dataset established with the World Bank, and made available in full to Bruckner’s professor, Klaus Hubacek, to assess the true environmental impact if 1bn of the poorest people on Earth escaped poverty by 2030. 

The data distinguishes between 201 expenditure categories in 116 different countries, representing 90% of the global population. Each category then had its carbon footprint calculated. National poverty lines were included, and an environmentally extended multi-regional input-output approach was used to ensure emissions from the global supply chain were taken into account. 

Based on this methodology, those moving above the poverty line in richer countries would cause a bigger change in the world’s carbon footprint than those in poorer countries. Effectively, the study shows lifting 1bn people out of poverty would result in increased global emissions of between 1.6 and 2.1%. The research also highlights how the richest 1% of the world are responsible for 50% more emissions than the poorest 50%.

In conclusion, the investigation states that reducing emissions in the wealthiest countries is the only realistic approach to meeting the targets set by the Paris Agreement, rather than placing an emphasis on uncoupling economic growth from emissions, or relying on technological advancements. 

In related news, Southampton University recently published findings showing that expanding renewable energy capacity does not need to be at the expense of biodiversity. 


Image credit: Karl Groendal


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