Richest 1% emit more carbon than poorest two-thirds, says Oxfam

Oxfam report calls for a new wave of taxes on corporations and billionaires

The world’s richest 1 per cent generated as much carbon emissions as the poorest two-thirds in 2019, according to a new Oxfam report that examines the uber-wealthy’s lavish lifestyles and investments in heavily polluting industries.

The report paints a grave portrait as climate experts and activists scramble to curtail global warming that is devastating vulnerable and often poor communities in Southeast Asia, East Africa and elsewhere. This month marked a long-dreaded milestone for the planet, when scientists recorded an average global temperature that was more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels on Friday.

You are reading: Richest 1% emit more carbon than poorest two-thirds, says Oxfam

“The super-rich are plundering and polluting the planet to the point of destruction, leaving humanity choking on extreme heat, floods and drought,” Oxfam International’s interim executive director, Amitabh Behar, said in a news release on Monday. He called for 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.

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“None of this is surprising, but, you know, it’s crucial,” said David Schlosberg, director of the Sydney Environment Institute at the University of Sydney. As policy stakeholders head into this year’s U.N. climate conference, Schlosberg said the Oxfam report offers a different way to discuss climate justice beyond the touchy subject of how specific industrialized nations have contributed to global warming.

“That’s been a huge issue in climate justice — countries don’t want to pay for what they have done in the past,” he said. “So the interesting thing here is, OK, let’s not talk about historic responsibility, but current responsibility.”

Oxfam’s recommended solution is hardly new, but it’s one that climate activists continue to fight for: taxing the uber-rich and using that money to invest in renewable energy.

According to the Oxfam report, which calls for a new wave of taxes on corporations and billionaires, “a 60 per cent tax on the incomes of the richest 1 per cent would cut emissions by more than the total emissions of the U.K. and raise $6.4 trillion a year to pay for the transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy.”

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Some in recent years have also floated the idea of taxing high-carbon-emissions behaviour, such as the purchase or use of private jets, yachts and high-end fossil fuel cars.

Over the summer, Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) proposed a tax on private jet travel, calling on the wealthy to “pay their fair share” for environmental costs. Last year, Canada imposed a 10 per cent tax on the purchase of luxury aircraft, boats and cars. And in recent years, celebrities such as Kylie Jenner, Kim Kardashian, Drake and Taylor Swift have all faced public backlash for using private jets, with Jenner’s plane once logging a 14-minute flight.

“The public understands inequality, and the public understands the inequality of the impact of climate change,” Schlosberg said. “. . . Specific taxes on high-emitting behaviours are gaining favour across the public, so I could see in a number of countries the pressure increasing to do something.”

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