Climate change mainly driven by ‘super rich’: report

A new report has found that the top one per cent of earners are disproportionately driving the climate crisis, and researchers are calling for substantially higher taxes on income, wealth and corporate profits to fix it.

After five months of consecutive global temperature records, climate scientists say global warming has become an equity issue as much as an environmental crisis.

“We looked at just the top one per cent and found the carbon heating emissions of that group was enough to lead to another 1.3 million deaths over the course of this century,” Ian Thomson, Policy Manager at Oxfam Canada, said in an exclusive interview with CTV National News.

“The super rich are really the cause of the climate crisis.”

A new Oxfam report shared with CTV News highlights the disparities in who is driving global warming and the disproportionate impact it is having on the global south.

The report, titled ‘Climate Equality: A planet for the 99 per cent’, includes data curated with the Stockholm Environment Institute and argues not only that the super rich are driving the climate crisis, but that the financial burden of resolving it should also fall at their feet.

The report found that in 2019, the top one per cent, defined as those with a minimum income of US$140,000, contributed 16 per cent of global carbon emissions.

This is the same amount of emissions contributed by the poorest 66 per cent of humanity—roughly 5 billion people.

Annual emissions from the top one per cent alone cancels out the equivalent carbon savings of nearly a million onshore wind turbines when compared to coal energy, according to the report.

“Climate change is no question an issue of justice and equity, and those who have contributed least to the problem are bearing the brunt of the impacts,” Katharine Hayhoe, chief scientist of Toronto-based conservation group Nature United and professor at Texas Tech University, told CTV National News.

“Flip that around and what that tells us is those who are creating or generating the biggest contribution to this problem have the most responsibility to do something about it,” she added.

The push for climate action comes as new data from the European Space Agency shows 2023 is “virtually certain” to be the warmest year ever recorded.

October set a global temperature record, averaging 1.7 C higher than the pre-industrial reference period.

Data since January shows the yearly average is 1.43 C above the baseline, less than a tenth of a degree below the Paris Agreement threshold. This means 2023 is almost certain to be the hottest year ever.

“This is a wake up sign to all of us that this issue is no longer a future issue,” Hayhoe said.

“Every tenth of a degree saves someone’s house from flooding, someone’s crops from being lost, someone from suffering heat exhaustion and having to go the hospital or even worse. Everything we do truly matters.”

Although personal jets, sailing in yachts and travelling between multiple homes are a surface driver of the top one per cent’s emissions, their lavish lifestyles aren’t the true issue, according to Thomson.

The big problem, the data shows, is where billionaires invest their money.

According to Oxfam data, the share of billionaire investments that were invested in polluting industries was double that of the average investor, and these investments accounted for 50 per cent to 70 per cent of the emissions from the super-rich.

A 2022 Oxfam study of 125 billionaires found just one invested in a renewable energy company. On average billionaires emitted 3 million tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) every year through their investments.

Oxfam is pushing for a wealth tax on the world’s millionaires and billionaires, along with a broad windfall corporate profits tax.

Although Canada introduced a relatively narrow windfall profits tax during the pandemic which was specifically targeted at the banking and insurance sectors, estimates from the Parliamentary Budget Officer predict a wealth tax and an excess windfall profits tax could bring in a combined $10 billion per year. But experts say it wouldn’t be enough for only a few countries to apply a wealth tax.

“We can’t simplify the problem by only looking at a handful of countries, we really have to look at the super rich as a group, regardless of where they live, and hold them accountable for the impact they’re having,” Thomson said.

According to the Oxfam report, a tax of around 60 per cent on the incomes of the super-rich globally would cut the carbon equivalent to more than the total emissions of the U.K., and could raise US$6.4 trillion in the process, which could be reinvested into renewable energy and a transition away from fossil fuels.

The report also suggest geographic emissions disparities are diminishing, with emissions inequality between rich people and those living in poverty within countries now greater than the inequality between countries.

Women, Indigenous peoples, and those living in poverty were all more likely to be disproportionately impacted by the harms of climate change, while contributing fewer emissions per capita.

According to Oxfam, limiting long-term global warming to 1.5C requires a 48 per cent cut in total global emissions by 2030, but the World Meteorological Organization predicts temperatures will likely pass that limit within the next four years.

Hayhoe says a price on pollution continues to be the most effective market tool to tackle climate change, but says those revenues need to be redistributed to middle and low-income households to lessen the impacts of a warming world.

“Solutions for climate can also be solutions for justice and equity, and by tackling climate change we can create a better and safer and more just world,” she said.  

With files from Alexandra Mae Jones

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