December 7, 2023
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The carbon footprint of capital

What is the carbon footprint of capital and how are emissions associated with asset ownership distributed across the population?

In this paper, Lucas Chancel and Yannic Rehm present new estimates on the inequality in individual carbon footprints across wealth groups in the US, Germany and France.  They develop a novel framework to measure individual carbon footprints, which extends beyond the traditional consumption-based approach. The key novelty is to include in the carbon footprint of individuals not only emissions linked to consumption and personal lifestyle, but also the emissions associated with asset ownership (such as real estate, equities or pension assets). They define three main approaches to track emissions on the individual and country level: the consumption, the ownership and the mixed approach.

>> To download the non-technical research summary, click here.


Key findings:

  • The wealthiest 10% emitted nearly 38 tonnes of CO2-equivalent (tCO2e, or tonnes) per capita and per year on average in France, 50 tonnes in Germany and 102 tonnes in the US, when ownership emissions are fully taken into account. Instead, when only their consumption emissions are tracked, the
    footprint of the wealthiest 10% of the population is of 16 tonnes in France, 18 tonnes in Germany, and 52 tonnes in the US (still far above Paris Climate Agreement’s target of 2 tonnes per capita).
  • The top 10% account for a majority (70-85%) of emissions related to capital ownership. In fact, inequality in wealth-related emissions appears to be higher than wealth inequality in general, because the wealthiest own assets more carbon intensive than the middle and the poorer segments of society.
  • Carbon taxes on consumption typically fall disproportionately on the low-income, low-emitter groups. On the contrary, a carbon tax on the carbon content of assets or of investments, would mainly fall on wealthy emitters.



  • Lucas Chancel, Visiting Associate Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, Associate Professor at Sciences Po, Co-director World Inequality Lab
  • Yannic Rehm, doctoral student at Paris School of Economics



  •  Press[at]