1 November 2022

At a glance:

This report offers a study of carbon emissions per income group in the UK over a twenty year period, using established ratios between income and carbon consumption. On this basis, it simulates a hypothetical carbon tax, asking the question: if the UK had implemented a tax on the excessive carbon consumption of the wealthiest 1%, how much could have been raised over the previous two decades? This is used as a case study to explore the potential of a Climate Wealth Fund and its possible uses. 


Key findings

  • Climate politics in the UK is suffused with inequality. The top 1% of earners by income has generated roughly the same carbon footprint in a single year than the bottom 10% has in more than two decades. In other words, it would take 26 years for a low earner in the UK to consume as much carbon as the very richest do in a single year.
  • The top 1% on its own (around 670,000 people) have a larger carbon footprint than the entire 3rd income decile (equivalent to ~6.7 million people)
  • There have been missed opportunities. If a carbon tax had been set at the price proposed by the Swedish Ministry of Finance (approximately £115 per ton of carbon), revenue raised from the top 1% would have amounted to £126 billion over a twenty year period. Changes to the tax system are vital if future opportunities are not to be missed.
  • £126 billion would have been sufficient for the UK to:
    • Invest in almost five times current offshore wind capacity
    • Triple current solar (PV) capacity
    • Double onshore wind capacity
    • Add 2.1 GW of tidal energy capacity and add a similar amount of pumped storage hydropower.
    • Retrofit almost 8 million homes, upgrading their efficiency to EPC “C”, cutting energy bills while reducing overall emissions. 
  • These investments would amount to drastically replacing gas-generated energy with renewable sources, and would decrease dependency on imports.
  • With no UK carbon tax in place, the richest 1% have been free to ‘dump’ disproportionately large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere for little to no cost, creating a burden now shouldered by the rest of the population. To green the UK economy, and bring about the change current and future generations desperately need, this must change.


Luiz Garcia

Will Stronge

This paper was supported by the Alex Ferry Foundation and Subak.