EU’s richest 10% emit as much planet-heating emissions as half the EU’s poorest population

Published: 20th November 2023

A European wealth tax would raise nearly €250 billion a year which could be used to fight the climate crisis and inequality. 

The richest 10 percent of Europeans produced as much carbon pollution in 2019 as half of Europe’s poorest population, Oxfam reveals today. These findings, based on Oxfam’s new report “Climate Equality: A Planet for the 99%”, come ahead of the UN climate summit in Dubai and amid growing fears that the 1.5°C target for curtailing rising temperatures appears increasingly unachievable. 

In Europe, a person from the richest 1 percent emits on average 14 times more carbon (CO2) than a person in the bottom 50 percent. These outsized emissions of Europe’s richest will cause 67,800 heat-related excess deaths by 2100, the equivalent of almost 850 deaths every year.  

“Europe’s wealthiest are also Europe’s biggest polluters. Their increasingly luxurious lifestyles and escalating opulence are wreaking havoc on our planet. Meanwhile ordinary people are burdened with rising costs and the dire consequences of heatwaves, floods, and landslides caused by human greed. The EU must step in and make Europe’s richest polluters pay up”, said Chiara Putaturo, Oxfam EU tax expert.  


  • The richest 1 percent (77 million people) were responsible for 16 percent of global consumption emissions in 2019 — more than all car and road transport emissions. The richest 10 percent accounted for half (50 percent) of emissions. 

  • It would take about 1,500 years for someone in the bottom 99 percent to produce as much carbon as the richest billionaires do in a year. Every year, the emissions of the richest 1 percent cancel out the carbon savings coming from nearly one million wind turbines. 

  • The carbon emissions of the richest 1 percent are set to be 22 times greater than the level compatible with the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement in 2030. 

Climate breakdown and inequality are locked in a vicious cycle — seven times more people die from floods in more unequal countries. Oxfam has seen first-hand how people living in poverty, women and girls, Indigenous communities and low- and middle-income countries are facing the brunt of the climate crisis.   

The EU and EU governments can tackle the twin crises of inequality and the climate crisis by introducing a European wealth tax which targets the excessive emissions of the super-rich, and channels this wealth into public services and meeting climate goals. Oxfam calculates that a wealth tax on European multimillionaire's and billionaires could generate 250 billion euro, the equivalent to one third of the EU’s recovery fund which partially finances the EU Green Deal.  

“We need a European wealth tax. Economists want it, multi-millionaires want it and people want it. That is why we are supporting a petition calling for a European wealth tax. There are billions of euros at stake to invest in fighting poverty and inequality, and the climate crisis”, said Putaturo. 

Notes to editors

Chiara Putaturo is available for interview and comment. 

Download “Climate Equality: A Planet for the 99%” and the methodology note. The Stockholm Environment Institute’s Emissions Inequality Dashboard is also available for consultation. 

These findings are based on the new Oxfam report, “Climate Equality: A Planet for the 99%”, with research by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). The report assesses the consumption emissions of different income groups in 2019, the most recent year for which data are available. The report shows the stark gap between the carbon footprints of the super-rich —whose carbon-hungry lifestyles and investments in polluting industries like fossil fuels are driving global warming— and the bulk of people across the world.  

Based on the same methodology as the report, Oxfam calculated that: 

  • The EU’s richest 1 percent emitted 6 percent of EU carbon emissions in 2019. Their emissions are enough to cause 67,800 excess deaths due to heat between 2020 and 2100. This is equivalent to almost 850 deaths every year.  

  • The EU’s richest 10 percent emitted 28 percent of EU emissions in 2019, more than the EU’s bottom 50 percent (26 percent).  

  • The per capita emission of a person in the EU in the top 1percent is 14 times more than per capita emission of a person in the bottom 50 percent. 

Oxfam calculates that a 60 percent tax on the incomes of the global richest 1 percent would cut emissions by 695 million tons. That is one-fifth of the EU countries 27 total emissions in 2019 (3,507 million) and would raise almost 6 trillion euro a year to pay for the transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy.  

Oxfam has launched a global petition to Make Rich Polluters Pay and is supporting, together with politicians, economists like Piketty and multi-millionaire like Marlene Engelhorn, a European Citizens Initiative for a European wealth tax.  

Oxfam is calling on the EU to: 

  • Introduce a European wealth tax to combat the climate crisis and inequality, within and outside the EU. Oxfam calculated that an annual European wealth tax starting at just 2 percent on millionaires with wealth above 4.5 million euros; 3 percent on millionaires with wealth above 45.7 million euros; and 5 percent on billionaires, would raise nearly 250 billion euro. This is one third of the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility (723.8 bn euro).   

  • Play its part to dramatically reduce inequality. Oxfam calculates that it would be possible, through a global redistribution of incomes, to provide everyone living in poverty with a minimum daily income of $25 while still reducing global emissions by 10 percent (roughly the equivalent of the total emissions of the European Union).  

  • Stop using fossil fuels quickly and fairly. Rich countries are disproportionately responsible for global warming and must end oil and gas production correspondingly faster. New taxes on corporations and billionaires could help pay for the transition to renewable energy. 

  • Stop using GDP growth as the measure of human progress. Prioritise human and planetary wellbeing over endless profit, extraction and consumption.  

According to SEI’s research, a person in the bottom 99 percent emits on average 4.1 tons of carbon a year. Richard Wilk and Beatriz Barros’ study of 20 of the world’s billionaires found that they emitted on average 8,194 tons CO2 equivalent per year. This includes all greenhouse gases, so when converted to CO2, this is approximately 5,959 tons CO2. 5,959 divided by 4.1 is 1,453.  

Oxfam’s research has shown that the investments of just 125 billionaires emit 393 million tonnes of CO2e each year — the equivalent of France — at an individual annual average that is a million times higher than someone in the bottom 90 percent of humanity

According to the UN, more than 91 percent of deaths caused by climate- and weather-related disasters over the past 50 years occurred in low and lower income countries. Evidence shows that inequalities between rich and poorer countries are already 25 percent larger than they would be in a world without global warming. 

Contact information

Julia Manresa | Brussels, Belgium | | mobile +32 473 87 44 26      

Jade Tenwick I Brussels | | mobile +32 473 56 22 60 | +32 484 81 22 94 (personal)   

For updates, please follow @OxfamEU. You can also find us on LinkedIn.