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Greenhouse gas emissions from billionaires’ investments in polluting industries are twice as high as the average emissions of the largest U.S. companies included in the Standard and Poor’s stock index, an Oxfam report released today reveals.

The investments of just 125 billionaires emit 393 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (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.

The report Carbon billionaires: The investment emissions of world’s richest people, published by Oxfam today, is based on a detailed analysis of the investments of 125 of the richest billionaires in some of the world’s biggest corporates and the carbon emissions of these investments. These billionaires have a collective $2.4 trillion stake in 183 companies.

The report finds that these billionaires’ investments give an annual average of 3 million tons of CO2e, which is a million times higher than the average for those living in the bottom 90 percent (2.76 tons of CO2e per person). This comes on top of their emissions from their lifestyle and personal consumption.

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, and billionaires and corporates who do not publicly reveal their emissions, so could not be included in the research, are likely to be those with a high climate impact.

A huge responsibility

“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.

Emissions from billionaire lifestyles, their 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 milliontimes higher.”

Nafkote Dabi

Climate Change Lead at Oxfam

Paradoxically, it is the people and communities that have contributed least to the causes of global warming that are suffering the most.

“Women, youth and marginalized communities are particularly affected. Climate change is a costly and sometimes deadly reality that hits populations in low-income countries the hardest.”

Léa Pelletier-Marcotte

Policy analyst at Oxfam-Québec

Investing in a fairer future

Investments billionaires make help shape the future of our economy, for example by backing high carbon infrastructure, locking in high emissions for decades to come. 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 oftheir emissions by up to four times.

“The super-rich must be discouraged from making polluting investments that destroy the planet, through stricter regulation and taxation. Governments must also put in place ambitious policies that require companies to be more accountable and transparent in disclosing and reducing their emissions. We also call for adequate and sustainable climate finance to support the most affected communities.”

Léa Pelletier-Marcotte

Policy analyst at Oxfam-Québec

In the same vein, Oxfam-Québec has launched a petition asking the government to take action to implement climate justice measures.

flèche I sign the petition

Oxfam has estimated that a wealth tax on the worlds’ super rich could raise up to $1.4 trillion a year, vital resources that could help developing countries to adapt, address loss and damage and carry out a just transition to renewable energy. Ahead of the deliberations at COP27, Oxfam is additionally calling on :

  • Governments to put in place regulations and policies that compel corporations to track and report on GHG emissions, and set science-based climate targets with a clear road map to reducing emissions.
  • Governments should implement a wealth tax on the richest people and an additional steep rate top-up on wealth invested in polluting industries. This will reduce the numbers and power of rich people in our society, drastically reduce their emissions, and raise billions that can be used to help countries cope with the brutal impacts of climate breakdown and the loss and damage they incur and shift to renewable energy.
  • Corporations must put in place ambitious and time-bound climate change action plans with short-to-medium term targets in line withglobal climate change objectives in a view to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

“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 corporations conduct business and public policy.”

Nafkote Dabi

Climate Change Lead at Oxfam

Any media request?

Josianne Bertrand
Media and Public Relations Officer
Phone: 514 606-4663
Email: josianne.bertrand@oxfam.org

Notes :

  • The « Carbon Billionnaires » report is available online.
  • Oxfam began with a list of the 220 richest people in the world according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index and worked with data provider Exerica to identify the percentage ownership these billionaires held in corporations and the scope 1&2 emissions of these corporations. To calculate the investment portfolios of individual billionaires, we used the analysis by Bloomberg, who provides detailed breakdowns of the sources of billionaire wealth. Here is the methodology note
  • The estimate on the money that could be raise on wealth tax on millionaires, multi-millionaires and billionaires, is through using data from Wealth X and Forbes.
  • Recent data from Oxfam’s research with the Stockholm Environment Institute Confronting Carbon Inequality shows that the wealthiest 1 percent of humanity is responsible for twice as many emissions as the poorest 50 percent and that by 2030, their carbon footprints are set to be 30 times greater than the level compatible with the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement.
  • The GHS protocol greenhouse accounting standards widely used globally spells out the three categories of gas emissions associated with companies as follows:
    • Scope 1are direct emissions from the company’s operations.
    • Scope 2are indirect, where the emissions take place elsewhere.
    • Scope 3are all other indirect emissions, this includes everything from emissions in the company’s supply chains to employee commuting, to the use of the products they sell by consumers.
  • All amounts are in US dollars.