The world’s richest one per cent contributed as much carbon as the five billion people who comprise two-thirds of the globe’s poorest in 2019, which could spell out dire consequences in less than a decade, according to a new report.
The report was published Monday by Oxfam — an independent organization focused on alleviating global poverty — and conducted with the Stockholm Environment Institute.
It found that the emissions of the world’s richest one per cent made up 16 per cent of the total seen in 2019, about the same amount contributed by the poorest 66 per cent of humanity.
In addition, the richest 10 per cent accounted for half the total emissions, with the report noting it would take about 1,500 years for someone in the bottom 99 per cent of the world to “produce as much carbon as the richest billionaires do in a year.”
According to the organization, the size of the emissions from the richest one per cent is enough to cause 1.3 million excess deaths due to heat, with most of these deaths expected to take place between 2020 and 2030.
“(The) report reveals not only are the super-rich getting richer, but they are disproportionately responsible for driving climate change,” Ian Thomson, Oxfam Canada manager of policy, told Global News.
“Not only are they contributing to most of the pollution that’s causing it, but they aren’t bearing the brunt of the climate disasters, the floods, the droughts that are destroying people’s homes, that are causing global hunger.”
As politicians are set to head to the UN’s climate summit next week, the findings raise questions about what could be considered as additional steps needed to combat climate change.
Thomson said those attending the summit will likely be discussing issues including climate finance and who is going to pay for solutions.
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“We’re hopeful that governments around the world will look at the new wealth taxes and windfall corporate profit taxes as a key tool that they aren’t using right now, but could use,” he said.
Who makes up the world’s richest 1%?
The report defines the top one per cent as the 77 million people with an income threshold of US$140,000 and average annual income of US$310,000 or more. The report says the top one per cent has burned through more than twice as much carbon since the 1990s than the bottom half of the world’s population.
In 2019, this income group produced about 5.9 billion tonnes of CO2, while the bottom 66 per cent produced about 5.65 billion tonnes, according to Oxfam.
The report also warns that the emissions of the top one per cent are set to be more than 22 times above the safe limit in 2030, which is defined as the emissions allowed if the world is to stay below the 1.5 C rise from above pre-industrial levels.
That group of the wealthiest contributes to the “climate story” in various ways, the report notes, including their own personal consumption. For those who make such a high salary, their carbon emissions come in part due to using items like yachts, private jets and the “lavish lifestyles” they hold, the report says.
But it is more than just personal purchases that impact carbon emissions, as those in this group also hold shares and investments in what Oxfam calls heavy-polluting industries. The report adds that 50 to 70 per cent of their emissions come from these investments. It also says that in 2022, it conducted an analysis of 125 billionaires and found on average they emitted three million tons of carbon dioxide yearly through their investments, more than a million times more than the average for someone “in the bottom 90 per cent of humanity.”
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What may come as no surprise is the inequities in emissions between countries, with high-income countries — or 16 per cent of the world’s population — being responsible for 40 per cent of global consumption-based CO2, while low-income countries’ contribution amounts to just 0.4 per cent. Africa, which has 17 per cent of the world’s population, has its own consumption-based emissions at only four per cent.
Of what Oxfam calls “rich polluting elites,” they can be found across the globe, but the report notes one-third of carbon emissions from the one per cent are those in the U.S., followed by China and Gulf countries. And of the richest 10 per cent, 40 per cent of emissions are associated with those in North America and the European Union, with another one-fifth in China and India.
In response to the report, Oxfam says it is calling on governments to take several actions, starting with reducing inequality, noting through its calculations a global redistribution of incomes could provide those living in poverty with a minimum daily income of $25, while also reducing emissions by 10 per cent.
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Given the disproportionate number of rich countries responsible for climate change, the organization also calls on countries to get off fossil fuels “quickly and fairly” and to put new taxes on corporations and billionaires, which it says could assist in paying for the transition to renewable energy. The report says a 60 per cent tax on the one per cent of global earners could cut 690 million tonnes of emissions, more than the total amount produced by the U.K., and would raise US$6.4 trillion that could go towards renewable energy.
Thomson said Canada is one of the countries Oxfam would like to see the “wealth tax” placed on the richest that would then be used towards green climate solutions.
“If billionaires are the ones that are causing the majority of this pollution disproportionately compared to the rest of the world, then we really do need to focus in on their wealth and making sure that, through taxation, they’re going to be spending less on this high-consumption lifestyle,” he said.
“But also that the resources that we raise from the tax are actually going to the things that we need to protect people from climate change.”
— with files from Nivrita Ganguly
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