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Through their lifestyle -- and their investments -- billionaires are fueling the climate crisis

A very high end luxury car is parked in front of a Versace store in  a wealthy neighborhood.
Image Credit: Unsplash

Billionaires emit 1 million times more greenhouse gases than the average person, according to a new report from the advocacy organization, Oxfam.

Those investments fund emissions of 393 million tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases each year. That's the equivalent of the entire country of France, according to the report.

The investments of just 125 billionaires emit 393 million tonnes of CO2e each year – the equivalent of France – at an individual annual average that is a million times higher than someone in the bottom 90 percent of humanity.

In all, 125 billionaires worth a collective $2.4 trillion are funding 183 companies whose operations are directly responsible for burning the fossil fuels that cause global warming.

“These few billionaires together have ‘investment emissions’ that equal the carbon footprints of entire countries like France, Egypt or Argentina,” said Nafkote Dabi, Climate Change Lead at Oxfam, in a statement. “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 Dabi.

The investment strategies of the world's wealthiest are important because those investments account for about 70% of the total carbon footprint of these ultra-rich folks. Oxfam calculated that footprint based on billionaires with over 10% stakes in the corporation and then allotting them a share of the reported emissions from those companies based on their ownership stake

The study also found billionaires had an average of 14 percent of their investments in polluting industries such as energy and materials like cement, according to Oxfam. This is twice the average for investments in the Standard and Poor 500. Only one billionaire had investments in a renewable energy company, according to the study.

“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,” said Dabi. “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.”

Simply moving their money out of oil and gas investing could reduce the emissions from billionaire owners by up to four times, according to the Oxfam study. And by continuing to support fossil fuels, these ultra-wealthy are locking in high emissions for decades.

“The super-rich need to be taxed and regulated away from polluting investments that are destroying the planet. Governments must put also in place ambitious regulations and policies that compel corporations to be more accountable and transparent in reporting and radically reducing their emissions,” said Dabi.

If governments imposed a wealth tax on these ultra-super-duper rich it could raise up to $1.4 trillion per year -- an amount of money that would go a long way towards covering the loss and damage that global warming has inflicted on developing countries -- and provide those countries with an off-ramp from oil and gas.

According to the UNEP adaptation costs for developing countries could rise to $300 billion per year by 2030, Oxfam wrote in a statement. Africa alone will require $600 billion between 2020 to 2030.

“To meet the global target of keeping warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, humanity must significantly reduce carbon emissions, which will necessitate radical changes in how investors and corporations conduct business and public policy,” said Dabi.


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