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Bringing “extreme” poverty to an end will not jeopardise the chances of limiting global warming to 2C above pre-industrial levels, a new study says

Bringing “extreme” poverty to an end will not jeopardise the chances of limiting global warming to 2C above pre-industrial levels, a new study says. 

Pulling the 770 million people around the world out of extreme poverty – which is defined as living on less than $1.90 a day – would add a mere 0.05C to global temperatures by 2100, the research shows.

However, eradicating poverty entirely by moving the world’s poorest into a “global middle class” income group, which earns a modest $2.97-8.44 a day, could add 0.6C to global temperatures by 2100.

In order to end all forms of poverty without driving up global temperatures, world leaders will need to ramp up climate mitigation efforts by 27%, the lead author tells Carbon Brief.

‘Climate-development conflict’

Ending extreme poverty for “all people everywhere” is the first of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, an internationally-agreed set of targets aimed to improve the global standard of living by 2030.

However, putting an end to extreme poverty could bring additional challenges to meeting the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global temperature rise to “well below” 2C.

This is because raising the quality of life of the world’s poorest would mean using more of the planet’s resources – such as food and energy – driving up carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.

This paradox is known as the “climate-development conflict”, explains Prof Klaus Hubacek, a researcher at the University of Maryland and lead author of the new research OPEN ACCESS "Poverty eradication in a carbon constrained world" published in Nature Communications.

In his research, he aimed to quantify the total “cost”, in terms of carbon emissions, of ending extreme poverty. He tells Carbon Brief:

The chart below (left) shows the respective carbon footprints of the world’s rich and poor. The left column shows how the world’s population can be split into different income groups, including those living on: less than $1.90 a day (green); between $1.90 and $2.97 a day (blue); between $2.97 and $8.44 (yellow); between $8.44 and $23.03 a day (purple); and more than $23.03 a day (orange). The right column shows the proportional carbon footprints of each of these income groups.

CChange Poverty

A shows the proportion of global carbon emissions of different income groups, ranging from extreme poverty (green) to the top 10% of earners (orange). B shows the carbon footprint per person for different income groups. Each footprint is measured in carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). The black line separates direct carbon emissions (lower part) and indirect carbon emissions (upper part). Source: Hubacek et al. (2017)

The research finds that, in 2010, the world’s top 10% of earners were responsible for about 36% of global carbon emissions for the consumption of goods and services (see the orange section in each column).

In comparison, the extreme poor, which accounted for 12% of the world’s population in 2010, were responsible for just 4% of global emissions (green).

The second chart (right) shows the carbon footprint per person for different income groups. Each footprint is measured using CO2e, or the carbon dioxide equivalent, which is the standard unit for measuring carbon footprints. The black line separates direct carbon emissions (lower part) and indirect carbon emissions (upper part).

The research finds that the carbon footprint of the world’s average top earner is close to 14 times that of the average person living in extreme poverty.