BILLIONAIRES are responsible for one million times more greenhouse gas emissions than the average person, new research from Oxfam has found.

The climate impact of the investments of just 125 billionaires is equivalent to the carbon footprint of the entire country of France and nearly 10 times that of Scotland, the study found.

According to Forbes' 2022 list, there are 2668 billionaires in the world, with a combined net wealth of $12.7 trillion. 

'Unacceptable and unsustainable' climate impact 

Oxfam has demanded major companies come clean about the extent of their carbon emissions and said the richest in society must be taxed steeply, with an additional top-up charge to tax their income from polluting industries.

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The report, called Carbon Billionaires, has found that the super-wealthy play a “disproportionately large role in our fossil fuel economy, primarily through their investments”.

It added: “The distribution of carbon emissions between different income groups, and in particular the emissions of very high-income groups, is poorly reported and understood.

“It is critical that we better understand the role of the very rich in the fossil fuel economy, especially the role of billionaires as owners of and investors in some of the world’s largest corporate actors and take urgent action to address the huge scale of their investment-based emissions.”

The report calculates around 50% to 70% of the emissions of the wealthiest people in the world come as a result of their investments in polluting industries.

The average carbon footprint of the 125 billionaires investigated by Oxfam was around 3.1 million tonnes per person, the report found.

Of the bottom 90% of humanity in terms of wealth, the average carbon footprint was 2.76 tonnes, the study said.

The report added: “Emissions from billionaire lifestyles, including their private jets and yachts, are thousands of times the average person’s, which is itself unacceptable and unsustainable.

“But if we include emissions from their investments, then their carbon emissions are over a million times higher.

“Our analysis also found billionaires had an average of 14% of their investments in polluting industries, such as fossil fuels and materials like cement. This is twice the average for investments in the Standard and Poor 500 group of corporates.

“Only one billionaire in the sample had investments in a renewable energy company.”

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Oxfam has said that if the billionaires examined in their research moved their money into more environmentally-friendly firms, they could reduce the intensity of their emissions four times over.

The report said that while every person on the planet emits carbon, for most people this is minimal but the impact increases the further up the income scale one moves.

“Ordinary citizens often do not have a lot of control over their energy choices, particularly those in low or middle-income groups,” the report said.

“Poor public transport options can mean that people are forced to drive to work, for example.

“In contrast, investors can choose where they put their money. They can choose to put it into fossil fuel industries or other highly polluting activities, or into the activities of other corporate actors that are clearly failing to do enough to reduce their carbon emissions.

“The decisions that investors make now can potentially determine our emissions for decades to come – for instance, bad decisions on infrastructure investments can commit us to high levels of greenhouse gases far into the future.”

The charity published the report on the second day of the COP27 conference in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt amid warnings from UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres that the world was “sending a distress signal” in response to findings from a report which should the past eight years were the warmest on record.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected to urge world leaders during the conference not to backtrack on commitments made in Glasgow last year against a backdrop of rising energy prices caused by the war in Ukraine.

Oxfam has similarly called on companies to set targets to reduce their carbon emissions. According to the Paris Agreement, this means they must halve their emissions by 2030.

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The report added: “If we are to avoid climate breakdown, we need a lot fewer very rich people in the world and a much more even distribution of wealth.

“For all these reasons, greater taxation of the total wealth of rich people is essential in achieving greener and fairer taxation, and one that can raise trillions of dollars that can in part be used to protect and support those hit hardest by climate change and to help fund developing countries to protect their communities and adapt. 

“Beyond taxing all wealth, there is a very strong case for using top-up taxation to deter investments in those economic activities that are doing the most to harm the environment and hasten climate breakdown.”

Responding to the report, Rona Mackay, the SNP MSP for Strathkelvin and Bearsden, called on those with the "deepest pockets" to do more to support moves away from fossil fuels. 

She said: "With great wealth and privilege should also come great responsibility. However, in the case of too many of the super-rich, it appears the size of their bank balances are inversely proportionate to their social conscience.

“A private-jet lifestyle does not waive anyone’s moral obligation to do all they can to protect an environment we all share.

"It could be argued that those with the deepest pockets are in the best position to do the most rather than the least to help protect the planet.

“And no matter how much money an individual has, there will only ever be just the one planet to go around. 

"If billionaires continue to ignore the consequences of global warming and the attendant disaster of climate change, then no amount of money will protect them and future generations.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Greens said billionaires must pay up for their role in global warming.

They added: “We have long argued that the mega-rich need to be held much more accountable over their impact on climate and society.

“We welcome this report for bringing a timely new focus to the questions of individual and corporate responsibility and a need to improve related issues around transparency.”