‘Elite emissions’ are associated with the life-style decisions of the world’s most wealthy people, defined as High Net Worth Individuals (net assets above USD 1 million), and Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (net assets above USD 50 million). Elite emissions predominantly arise from frequent airplane trips on private jets, staying in resource-hungry luxury accommodation, and the maintenance of multiple large houses in different locations. Collectively, these equate to higher than average rates of carbon emmission from the extremely wealthy, often exacerbated by conspicuous consumption to maintain high social status and visibility. According to Otto et al. (2019) the most wealthy 0.5% of the world's population are likely to be responsible for about 13% of total lifestyle-related carbon emissions.[1] 

The lifestyles and consumption patterns of global elites strongly influence the globally growing middle classes, who may emulate the consumption habits of the very wealthy in order to differentiate themselves from those with less access to wealth. Thus, changes in the behavior of the super-rich to reduce their emissions may have significant down-stream effects, as their lifestyles often represent the consumption aspirations of the rest of the population. The affluent elite also have the potential to have a disproportionately large impact in the transition to zero carbon and renewable energy technologies, through funding research and development. Further, policies such as an inheritance tax, that make carbon footprint reduction of the super-rich compulsory, could be a key within a comprehensive portfolio of climate mitigation strategies. In 2017 alone, 44 heirs across the globe inherited more than a billion dollars each, totaling USD 189 billion. For comparison, the largest multilateral climate funds, including the Green Climate Fund, Adaptation Fund, Climate Investment Funds and Global Environment Facility, approved USD 2.78 billion of project support in 2016.[2]

[1] I.M. Otto, K.M. Kim, N. Dubrovsky and W. Lucht, ‘Shift the focus from the super-poor to the super-rich’, Nature Climate Change 9 (2019): 82-94.

[2] Ibid

Prof. Dr. Ilona M. Otto