Richest 20% of Canadians have biggest carbon footprint

GHG emissions reduction policies should be geared to income: study
November 15, 2011

OTTAWA—The richest 20% of Canadian income earners are responsible for almost double (1.8 times) the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of those in the lowest income group, says a new study released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

The study, Who Occupies the Sky? The Distribution of GHGs in Canada, by Marc Lee, finds household carbon footprints increase with income and concludes that GHG reduction policies must take inequality into consideration.

“It is important to develop an approach to reduce emissions that does not have an unequal impact on families with lower incomes, who have lower emissions to begin with,” says Lee, a CCPA Senior Economist. “Those with higher incomes are able to reduce the emissions —by reducing air travel and investing in home energy efficiency—more easily than low-income families, without affecting their basic needs.”

The study notes that inequality in carbon emissions is more extreme at the very top of the income distribution. Per capita emissions would be even higher for the richest Canadians and correspondingly lower for those with the lowest incomes.

Based on modeling of BC’s carbon tax, the top 1% of households had emissions three times the average, and almost six times the emissions of households in the bottom decile. Emissions of the top 1% were also almost double those of the next 4% of households.

“If climate policies are going to be effective, they need to be fair,” Lee concludes. “That means high-income Canadians should bear the greater burden of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”


Who Occupies the Sky? The Distribution of GHGs in Canada is available on the CCPA website:

For more information contact Kerri-Anne Finn, CCPA Senior Communications Officer, at 613-563-1341 x306.