In a recent Nature Climate Change article, a group of researchers show very interesting results on the distribution of Chinese carbon footprints according to their social level, and to the place where they live. At the household level, carbon footprints are very unequally distributed: in 2012, the urban very rich (5% of the population) induced 19% of the total carbon footprint from household consumption in China while 58% of population have footprints down to 10 times lower.

Furthermore, if all Chinese households had to catch up to the average urban rich expenditure patterns, this may result in a tripling of today’s total Chinese household carbon footprint. In fact, between 2007 and 2012 the total carbon footprint from households in China increased by 19%, with 75% of the increase due to the urban middle class and the rich.

This Chinese example shows how policy interventions are needed to improve living standards on one side, but also to encourage sustainable consumption and to transform lifestyles to be less carbon intensive on the other side.