Less global inequality can improve climate outcomes

Rao, N. ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1888-5292 & Min, J. ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0020-1174 (2018). Less global inequality can improve climate outcomes. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews (WIREs). Climate Change 1-6. 10.1002/wcc.513.

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Project: Energy and emissions thresholds for providing decent living standards to all (DecentLivingEnergy, H2020 637462), Linking Climate and Development Policies - Leveraging International Networks and Knowledge Sharing (CD-LINKS, H2020 642147)


Two of the biggest global challenges we face today are mitigating climate change and economic inequality. Some research suggests these goals are in conflict, based largely on the observation that a dollar spent at higher income levels is less carbon intensive than at lower income levels. We put this concern to rest. We quantify this effect in its most extreme manifestation, both within countries and between countries. We use a wide range of income elasticities of emissions (0.7–1.0) and scenarios from the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSP) with the highest (SSP4) and lowest (SSP5) between-country inequality. Within countries, even with assumptions of low elasticities (0.7) and aggressive inequality reduction (Gini coefficient of 0.55 to 0.30), emissions would realistically increase by less than 8%, which would likely occur over several decades. Income convergence between countries may reduce the emissions intensity of global income growth, because the energy intensity reductions from income growth in emerging economies, such as India and China, offsets the energy increasing effect of higher growth in developing countries. Given these findings, it seems a distraction for future research to dwell on this narrow framing when there are deeper under-explored linkages and synergies between reducing income inequality and climate change, such as the effect of reducing inequality on social norms, consumption and on political mobilization around climate policy.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: climate change; energy intensity; income inequality; mitigation
Research Programs: Energy (ENE)
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Luke Kirwan
Date Deposited: 23 Jan 2018 08:16
Last Modified: 26 Jan 2022 11:05
URI: https://pure.iiasa.ac.at/15078

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