In a stark revelation, the latest report by Oxfam titled “Climate Equality: A Planet for the 99%” sheds light on the disproportionate contribution to global carbon emissions by the top 1% wealthiest individuals. The report underscores how the emissions of the super-rich parallel the collective emissions of the world’s poorest 66%, significantly impacting the planet’s climate.
In this context, Thunberg’s poignant remarks were featured in the introduction of an Oxfam report discussing the alarming issue of how the world’s wealthiest individuals are contributing to the worsening of the climate crisis.
“Climate breakdown and inequality are linked together and fuel each other. If we are to overcome one, we must overcome both. The richest 1% of the world’s population are responsible for as much carbon pollution as the people who make up the poorest two-thirds of humanity. They have stolen our planet’s resources to fuel their lavish lifestyles. A short trip on a private jet will produce more carbon than the average person emits all year. They are sacrificing us at the altar of their greed,” written by Greta Thunberg, the youthful climate activist who fearlessly urges world leaders to promptly address climate change. A Tale of Two Worlds
The emissions from the super-rich, while accounting for a mere fraction of the global population, wield an outsized influence on climate breakdown. Their lifestyle insulated from climate-related hardships starkly contrasts with the immense suffering borne by the majority. The 5.9 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted by this minuscule elite in 2019 alone stands as a chief cause of widespread suffering for billions worldwide.
Oxfam’s report paints a distressing picture of escalating wealth among the affluent, while the basic necessities of food and shelter become increasingly unattainable for ordinary people, particularly affecting marginalized communities. As the climate crisis deepens, it’s the marginalized groups, including women, people of color, and indigenous communities, who endure the brunt of its consequences, while affluent white billionaires emerge as the victors.
Inequality Amplifying Climate Crisis
The disparity in suffering and contributions to the climate crisis cannot be dissociated. Since the 1990s, the top 1% has exhausted twice as much of the carbon budget as the poorest half of humanity combined. Alarming projections indicate that by 2030, the emissions of this elite group are set to exceed the safe limit by more than 22 times, imperiling the 1.5-degree Celsius warming threshold.
The annual emissions from the wealthiest 1% nullify the carbon savings equivalent to about a million onshore wind turbines, underscoring the magnitude of their impact. Shockingly, the emissions from this fraction of society in 2019 alone are estimated to cause 1.3 million deaths due to heat-related issues.
The report proposes radical measures to address this dire situation, advocating for a heavy tax of 60% on the global top earners among the super-rich. Such taxation could effectively mitigate carbon emissions equivalent to the total emissions of the United Kingdom, generating $6.4 trillion for renewable energy and expediting the shift away from fossil fuels.
Oxfam’s senior climate justice policy adviser, Chiara Liguori, condemns the plundering and pollution of the planet by the super-rich, emphasizing that those least capable of affording it are paying the highest price. The report emphasizes the need for a swift, fair transition away from fossil fuels and calls for a revamped economic system that prioritizes equity and sustainability over profit.
Redefining Economic Priorities
Critically, the report challenges the existing economic paradigm, labeling it a system that perpetuates inequality and exploitation. It advocates for a complete overhaul, urging a shift from an economy fixated on amassing wealth for the privileged few to one that centers on human and planetary flourishing. It stresses the imperative of placing democratic governments, not corporations, at the helm of shaping economies, advocating for a purposeful redesign focused on equitable and sustainable growth.
Oxfam international consists of 21 affiliates and the international secretariat in Nairobi. Additional offices were in Addis Abeba, Washington, DC, New York City, Brussels, and Geneva.
- Low-Emitting Nations, High Vulnerability: Regions like Africa, South Asia, Central and South America, Small Island Developing States, and the Arctic face severe climate impacts despite contributing minimally to emissions.
- Africa’s Contribution: With just under 4% of global emissions despite housing 17% of the population, Africa highlights the significant disparity in emissions and impact.
- Developing Nations’ Plight: Over 91% of climate-related disasters hit developing countries, emphasizing their vulnerability.
- Inequality Amplifies Impact: Flood-related fatalities are seven times higher in highly unequal societies.
- Marginalized Groups at Risk: Women and marginalized communities face compounded challenges in accessing relief and exhibit lower survival rates post-climate disasters.
Unequal Impact: Climate Crisis and Disproportionate Burden
Amidst the global climate crisis, the countries least responsible for instigating this environmental upheaval are grappling with its most severe repercussions. These low-emitting nations, however, find themselves least equipped to respond and recover from the devastating effects.
The regions bearing the brunt of vulnerability are primarily situated in Africa, South Asia, Central and South America, Small Island Developing States, and the Arctic. Despite being home to 17% of the global population, Africa’s emissions accounted for less than four percent of the total, emphasizing its minimal contribution to the crisis.
Over 91% of climate-related disasters in the last five decades have ravaged developing countries, amplifying the dire situation faced by these nations. The toll of fatalities caused by floods is alarmingly seven times higher in the most unequal societies compared to their more egalitarian counterparts.
Women and marginalized groups, particularly those with fewer economic resources, endure amplified challenges in accessing relief assistance and exhibit lower survival rates post-climate disasters, compounding the disparities.
A collaborative study by the Stockholm Environment Institute and Oxfam conducted in September 2020 scrutinized the carbon emission contributions of various income groups between 1990 and 2015. Shockingly, during this period witnessing a 60% surge in carbon dioxide emissions (13.5 billion tonnes), nearly half of the absolute emission growth stemmed from the wealthiest 10%. Remarkably, the top 5% alone accounted for a staggering 37% of this increase, while the impact of the poorest half of the global population remained nearly inconsequential.
climate change stands as a global crisis with far-reaching and devastating impacts on our planet. Nations and organizations are taking measures to address this urgent challenge.
The potential of harnessing the power of our oceans emerges as a promising solution. While the ecological consequences of such endeavors must be carefully considered, the imperative for action is clear.