The super-rich emit greenhouse gases at a level equivalent to the whole of France from their investments in carbon-intensive companies, according to an analysis published on the occasion of the opening of the COP27 talks on the UN climate in Egypt.
Looking at the carbon impact of the investments of 125 billionaires, the research found they held a collective $2.4 billion stake in 183 companies. On average, each billionaire’s investment emissions produced 3 million tonnes of CO2 per year; a million times more than the average emissions of 2.76 tons of CO2 for people living in the bottom 90% of incomes. In total, the 125 members of the super-rich emitted 393 million tonnes of CO2 per year, equivalent to the emissions of France, which has 67 million inhabitants.
The Oxfam report called for regulation of investment by the very wealthy and a wealth tax with a high rate of top-up on investment in polluting industries.
Danny Sriskandarajah, Chief Executive of Oxfam GB, said: “We need Cop27 to expose and change the role big business and their wealthy investors are playing in profiting from the pollution that is driving the climate crisis. world. It is those in low-income countries who have contributed the least to its cause who are suffering the most, as we are seeing with the devastating drought in East Africa and the catastrophic floods in Pakistan.
Investments were held in the consumer, energy and materials industries, with an average of 14% of their investments in polluting industries, such as fossil fuels and cement. There was only one renewable energy company in the sample. Studies show that 50-70% of the emissions of the super rich come from their investments.
The researchers did the math starting with a list of the 220 richest people in the world, according to Bloomberg’s August 2022 Billionaires List. They worked with a data provider to identify what percentage of each company was owned by the billionaires and perimeter 1 and 2 emissions from these companies. The researchers used Bloomberg’s analysis for detailed breakdowns of billionaires’ sources of wealth to calculate the percentage of each company owned by billionaires. They excluded billionaires holding less than 10% of a company’s shares. The research was limited because it relied on data that the companies publish themselves, which is often not externally verified.
“Each of these billionaires would each have to fly around the world nearly 16 million times in a private jet to create the same emissions,” the report says – adding that nearly four million people would have to go vegan to offset each other’s emissions. billionaires. .
Some of the super-rich analyzed have attempted to have positive impacts to tackle the climate crisis. They pointed to Yvon Chouinard, the billionaire owner of sportswear brand Patagonia, who has put ownership of the company in trust to benefit environmental efforts and said “The Earth is our sole shareholder.”
Tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes has taken a large stake in Australian energy company AGL to prevent it from continuing to operate coal-fired power plants for another two decades, the report said.
But Oxfam researchers said these activism efforts were very limited in the sample of the super-rich.
The charity has estimated that imposing a wealth tax on the world’s super-rich could raise $1.4 billion a year, which could help developing countries hardest hit by the climate crisis. to adapt, deal with loss and damage and make a just transition to renewable energy.
It also recommends significantly higher tax rates for investments in polluting industries; and calls on governments to act to ensure that investments in the extraction and use of new fossil fuels and in highly polluting industries are strictly regulated and banned in many cases.
“We need governments to tackle this problem urgently by publishing emissions figures for the wealthiest people, regulating investors and companies to reduce carbon emissions and taxing wealth and investments. pollutants. They cannot be allowed to hide or whitewash,” Sriskandarajah said.
“The role of the super-rich in climate change overload is rarely discussed. This must change. These billionaire investors at the top of the corporate pyramid bear a huge responsibility for the degradation of the climate. They have evaded responsibility for too long.