New Delhi: The investments of 125 of the world’s richest billionaires yield an annual average of three million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year, more than a million times the average for someone in the bottom 90% of humanity, according to a new report by the non-profit group Oxfam.
The super-rich have a collective $2.4 trillion stake in 183 companies and cumulatively, these 125 billionaires fund 393 million tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) per year, which is equal to the annual carbon emissions of France, a nation of 67 million people.
The investments of billionaires in polluting industries such as fossil fuels and cement are double the average for the Standard and Poor group of 500 companies, said the report titled ‘Carbon Billionaires: The investment emissions of the world’s richest people‘. Only one billionaire in the sample had investments in a renewable energy company.
The report says that the actual figure is likely to be higher still, as published carbon emissions by corporates “have been shown to systematically underestimate the true level of carbon impact”, Oxfam said. The report does not include the data of billionaires and corporates who do not publicly reveal their emissions, it added.
To put things into perspective, each of these billionaires would have to circumnavigate the world almost 16 million times in a private jet to create the same emissions, the report said.
It would take 1.8 million cows to emit the same levels of CO2e as each of the 125 billionaires. Almost four million people would have to go vegan to offset the emissions of each of the billionaires, it said.
“Emissions from billionaire lifestyles – due to their frequent use of private jets and yachts – are thousands of times the average person, which is already completely unacceptable. But if we look at emissions from their investments, then their carbon emissions are over a million times higher,” said Nafkote Dabi, Climate Change Lead at Oxfam International.
“The major and growing responsibility of wealthy people for overall emissions is rarely discussed or considered in climate policy making. This has to change. These billionaire investors at the top of the corporate pyramid have huge responsibility for driving climate breakdown. They have escaped accountability for too long,” said Amitabh Behar, CEO of Oxfam India.
The study found that if the billionaires in the sample moved their investments to a fund with stronger environmental and social standards, it could reduce the intensity of their emissions by up to four times.
Often the high-profile commitments made by corporates do not stand up to scrutiny. The flurry of net zero goals that depend on offsetting is at best a distraction from the need to take short-term measures to reduce corporates’ emissions and has the potential to derail climate action, Oxfam said.
In 2021, Oxfam revealed that using land alone to remove the world’s carbon emissions to achieve net zero’ by 2050 would require at least 1.6 billion hectares of new forests, an area equivalent to five times the size of India.
“We need COP27 to expose and change the role that big corporates and their rich investors are playing in profiting from the pollution that is driving the global climate crisis. They can’t be allowed to hide or greenwash. We need governments to tackle this urgently by publishing emission figures for the richest people, regulating investors and corporates to slash carbon emissions and taxing wealth and polluting investments,” said Dabi.
Oxfam also estimated that a wealth tax on the world’s super-rich could raise $1.4 trillion a year, vital resources that could help developing countries – those worst hit by the climate crisis – to adapt, address loss and damage and carry out a just transition to renewable energy.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), adaptation costs for developing countries could rise to $300 billion per year by 2030. Africa alone will require $600 billion between 2020 and 2030.
Oxfam also called for steeply higher tax rates for investments in polluting industries to deter such investments.
“The super-rich need to be taxed and regulated away from polluting investments that are destroying the planet. Governments must also put in place ambitious regulations and policies that compel corporations to be more accountable and transparent in reporting and radically reducing their emissions,” said Behar.
The 27th edition of the Conference of Parties (COP) to UNFCCC opened Sunday at Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Negotiations are scheduled to come to a close on November 18.
(With PTI inputs)
This article was first published on The Wire.
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