The Rich Need to Stop Flying Private for the World to Reduce Carbon Emissions

Emissions Gap Report 2020 shows the emissions gap between one-percenters and everyone else 1 photo
We’ve been told and warned too many times to count: if active measures to reduce carbon emissions aren’t outlined and deployed by 2030(ish), our planet is doomed. The rich would better start thinking about that, too.
The UN's recently released Emissions Gap Report 2020 comes as a slap in the face of all those thinking or hoping the travel bans imposed throughout 2020 amid the international health crisis would make a difference in terms of projected greenhouse emissions. They do make somewhat of a difference, but projections are still worryingly high.

You can find the full report in the attached PDF, but here’s what it boils down to: the world is heading to a temperature rise of 3+ degrees Celsius (37.4 Fahrenheit) this century. This might be less than what it would have been without the health crisis, but it’s still more than the limit of under 2 degrees Celsius (35.6 Fahrenheit) imposed by the Paris Agreement.

Which brings us to the question: if the world’s aircraft fleet was grounded for months in a row, who did all the flying in 2020? That would be the rich of the world, the one-percenters who make up a group of about 70 million people worldwide, for whom travel restrictions meant close to nothing and health concerns were annulled through the use of a private jet.

They are responsible for 15 percent of the world’s carbon pollution in 2020, whereas the bottom 50 percent (a total of 3.5 billion people) are responsible for another 50 percent of emissions. The so-called emissions gap, the difference between the carbon footprint of one-percenters and the rest of the world, has widened this past year considerably.

The report’s conclusion is a simple one in theory, but a very challenging one, in fact. The one-percenters need to stop flying private for any other measure of reducing carbon emissions to mean something. They need to cut their carbon footprint by 97 percent.

“The richest 1 percent would need to reduce their current emissions by at least a factor of 30, while per capita emissions of the poorest 50 percent could increase by around three times their current levels on average,” the report says.

In theory, that sounds easy enough to pull off, but it’s unlikely to happen – at least, not right away. Even the authors acknowledge this, saying “ultimately, the accomplishment of low-carbon lifestyles will require deep-rooted changes to socioeconomic systems and cultural conventions.” Willingness to change is what is needed.

Alternative methods of cutting carbon emissions are offered, like adopting a plant-based lifestyle and using public transport and/or cycling instead of driving. But they would probably still mean nothing if the rich of the world didn’t stop flying private jets. It’s like when you’re at the point of collapsing from dehydration, and someone comes to put a cool washcloth on your forehead. It helps, but it won’t keep you from dying.

Before we get too melodramatic or think bleak thoughts so early into the New Year, this shift in lifestyle and mentality of the rich may be difficult but not impossible. Just look at the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joaquin Phoenix, Al Gore, and James Cameron, to name just a few. They are not beyond reproach, to be sure, but they’re doing their best.

Everybody’s best is what’s needed right now. By 2030.
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About the author: Elena Gorgan
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Elena has been writing for a living since 2006 and, as a journalist, she has put her double major in English and Spanish to good use. She covers automotive and mobility topics like cars and bicycles, and she always knows the shows worth watching on Netflix and friends.
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