A study released on Sunday by Oxfam International revealed that the top 1 percent of the world’s wealthiest individuals, numbering around 77 million, were accountable for 16 percent of all global emissions in 2019. This figure surpasses the total emissions from all car and road transport combined.
The report also highlighted that the consumption habits of this affluent 1 percent would lead to approximately 1.3 million heat-related excess deaths from 2020 to 2030, a number equivalent to the population of Milan.
Furthermore, the research, compiled by the Stockholm Environment Institute, indicated that the richest 10 percent of the global population were responsible for half of all emissions harmful to the planet in 2019.
Climate experts and activists are scrambling to curtail global warming that is devastating vulnerable and often poor communities in Southeast Asia, East Africa, and elsewhere, as the report paints a grave portrait. Scientists recorded an average global temperature this month that was more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels on Friday, marking a long-dreaded milestone for the planet.
“Amitabh Behar, Oxfam International’s interim executive director, stated in a news release on Monday that ‘the super-rich are plundering and polluting the planet to the point of destruction, which is causing humanity to choke on extreme heat, floods, and drought.’ He also urged world leaders to ‘end the era of extreme wealth.’
According to Oxfam’s report, carbon emissions of the world’s richest 1 per cent surpassed the amount generated by all car and road transport globally in 2019, while the richest 10 per cent accounted for half of global carbon emissions that year. Meanwhile, emissions from the richest 1 per cent are enough to cancel out the work of nearly 1 million wind turbines each year, Oxfam said.
Oxfam warned that the world’s richest billionaires continuing to invest so heavily in polluting companies makes the challenge of transitioning away from fossil fuels – crucial to keeping the world within 1.5C of warming before the end of the century – even more difficult.
Unlike ordinary people, the ultra rich largely cause emissions through their investments. Last year, Oxfam separately reported that because of this, 125 of the world’s richest billionaires averaged emissions of 3 million tonnes a year.
“They instead are left to pick up the pieces after each devastating drought, fire, and flood, widening the economic gap a bit more each time,” Oxfam said, underlining that as inequality worsens, so too does climate change.
In recent years, the concept of taxing high-carbon-emissions behavior, such as the use or purchase of private jets, yachts, and high-end fossil fuel cars, has gained traction. For instance, Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) proposed a tax on private jet travel over the summer, urging the wealthy to contribute their fair share towards environmental costs.
In 2022, Canada implemented a 10 percent tax on the purchase of luxury aircraft, boats, and cars. Celebrities like Kylie Jenner, Kim Kardashian, Drake, and Taylor Swift have faced public criticism for their use of private jets, with Jenner’s plane once making a 14-minute flight.
Schlosberg noted that the public is aware of inequality and the unequal impact of climate change. Taxes on high-emitting behaviors are becoming increasingly popular, and pressure is mounting in many countries to take action.
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