Critical theme: tackling inequality and unsustainable consumption

Critical theme

An IIED seminar looked at ways to encourage the world's richest to reduce their environmental impact.

A gold-plated "supercar". London's newspapers recently reported on a Saudi Arabian prince who had four gold-plated sports cars flown to London for his use while on holiday (Photo: Alexandre Prévot, Creative Commons via Flickr)

On 20 April IIED hosted a discussion meeting to look at how to develop policies that could reduce inequality and lessen the impact of over-consumption on the environment. 

Recent research by Oxfam and French economists Thomas Piketty and Lucas Chancel (PDF) indicates the richest one per cent of people in many countries have huge per capita carbon footprints compared to the rest of the population. 

IIED brought together stakeholders from NGOs, think tanks and academia to discuss the difficulties of getting the richest people to reduce their negative impact on the environment. 

IIED researcher Essam Yassin Mohammed introduced the keynote speaker, independent researcher Dario Kenner. Kenner set up the Why Green Economy? website to provide a platform to share ideas on a new economic model to tackle climate change and protect the environment.

Kenner's presentation reviewed the data on the differences in per capita levels of carbon emicssions between the wealthiest citizens and the poorest in G20 countries.

He focused on a number of key questions:

  • How can policies designed to reduce inequality factor in environmental impact? 
  • How could governments use additional revenue from taxing the richest to reduce carbon footprints across society? 
  • How can redistribution be implemented to ensure it does not lead to people purchasing more carbon intensive goods and services? 

Kenner suggested outlined possible measures to target consumption by the richest members of society, including frequent flier levies, taxes on luxury goods and the creation of 'personal carbon budgets'. He suggested that additional tax revenues gained could be used to fund renewables or adaptation measures.

After the event, Kenner wrote a blog on defining the research agenda on inequality and unsustainable consumption, highlighting the reactions and questions prompted by his presentation.

We published Kenner's presentation via Storify - or you can see it below:

About the speaker

Dario Kenner is an independent researcher whose current research focuses on the links between inequality and the environment. He launched in 2013. Kenner has extensive experience of working on the environment and international development, including lobbying at UN climate change conferences and Rio+20. He is a visiting fellow at the Global Sustainability Institute at Anglia Ruskin University.

Related reading

To find out more about the issues discussed at the meeting, the organisers suggest the following:

About the Critical Theme series

IIED set up the 'Critical Theme' discussion series to explore new ideas and to broaden the knowledge of its staff and partners. 

The seminars cover a wide range of speakers and topics. Recent events have looked at 'Gender and environmental change', 'Pollution, politics and social media in China', and the 'Links between climate change and food security'.

Other events have focused on the governance of Marine Protected Areasthe Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR) and its work on reducing urban poverty, and the importance of meaningful stakeholder reporting.