One of the most hotly debated aspects of international climate change negotiations stems from the question of equity. Should wealthy Western economies be doing more to cut their emissions? Should the burden of mitigation fall more on them than on countries burning far fewer fossil fuels?

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It has always been clear that economies that have a higher historical emissions footprint, like Europe or the US, should be doing much more. But a new study, published earlier this week in Nature Science, backs the argument with some interesting figures. The paper, Large Inequality In International And Intranational Energy Footprints Between Income Groups And Across Consumption Categories, was prepared by a team of economists from the University of Leeds, UK. The researchers went through data from the European Union and the World Bank to rank per capita energy consumption across 86 countries. The finding, as reported by the BBC, is that the wealthiest 10% in the world consume nearly 20 times as much energy as the poorest 10%. When it comes to transport, the wealthiest 10% consume 187 times more energy than the poorest 10%. But here’s where the international distribution becomes important. For example, the paper states that 20% of UK citizens, and 40% of German citizens, are among the top 5% of global energy users, whereas for India it’s just .02%. Much of the energy disparity comes from the ability to afford private transport. Asking rich countries to cut emissions at a higher rate is only fair.

But even within India, far too few people consume far too much. In 2018, the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report stated that the richest 10% in India own 77.4% of the country’s wealth (the top 1% owns 51.5%). As the Leeds report shows, India’s poorest have an energy footprint of only 8.06 gigajoule per capita per year. The richest have an energy footprint of 156.28 gigajoule per capita per year. So while we call on richer countries to do their bit, India can do a lot more for its own citizens by incentivizing public transport and putting curbs on private vehicles.

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