In 2019, the super-rich 1%
were responsible for


of global carbon emissions,

which is the same as the emissions of the poorest 66% of humanity (5 billion people)

“For years we’ve fought to end an era of fossil fuels to save millions of lives and our planet. It’s clearer than ever this will be impossible until we also end an era of extreme wealth,” said Oxfam International interim Executive Director Amitabh Behar.


Since the 1990s the richest 1 % have burned through

more than twice as much carbon

as the bottom half of humanity

Understanding the role of super-rich and rich people (the top 1% and 10% by income) in climate breakdown is essential if we are to successfully stabilize our planet and guarantee a good life for all of humanity.

The super-rich are key to the climate story in three ways:

  1. through the carbon they emit in their daily lives, from their consumption, including from their yachts,
    private jets and their lavish lifestyles;
  2. through their investments and shareholdings in heavily polluting industries and their vested financial
    interest in the economic status quo;
  3. through the undue influence they have over the media, the economy, and politics and policy making.
As a result, they are robbing the rest of humanity of life on a healthy, liveable and more equal planet.​ New research by Oxfam and the Stockholm Environment Institute examining carbon emissions across global income groups shows just how pronounced this carbon inequality is.

Africa’s emissions were less than 4 percent, despite the continent being home to 17 percent of the world’s populations

*Click image to enlarge

More than 91 Percent of deaths caused by climate-related disasters of the past 50 years occurred in developing countries

The death toll from floods is 7 times higher in the most unequal countries compared to more equal countries.

Just as there is extreme inequality in who is responsible for the carbon emissions that have caused today’s climate crisis, there is vast inequality in how its impacts are felt.

The deeply unjust reality is that rich people and countries are driving the climate crisis, while those living in poverty, marginalized groups, and low-income countries are paying the price.

Rich people can do more to insulate themselves from the impacts of climate change. They tend to live in more secure housing, on land less prone to floods or other natural disasters, with appliances that can prevent the heat from becoming unbearable. They can often rely on savings or insurance to rebuild any damage caused.

Meanwhile, people living in poverty and other marginalised groups tend to live in more vulnerable housing, which is often over-crowded, more prone to flooding, and without access to air-conditioning. Repeated heat- waves, flooding, and drought are experienced very differently in these contrasting scenarios. Repeated climate-related disasters also continue to erode their capacity to overcome shocks and build back their lives and livelihoods.

*Click image to enlarge
Vulnerabilities to the impact of climate change also increase when economic inequality intersects with inequalities of power – such as gender, ethnicity, and age. Women and other groups experiencing discrimination – particularly those with fewer economic resources – tend to have less access to relief assistance and lower survival rates following a climate-related disaster.

"Climate Change Effects on Education in the Pacific'

‘The billionaire owners of our world, who inherited wealth that was stolen from us, are now also responsible for the situation we are in, a situation that the countries of the Global South never sought. They appropriated resources, they built empires, it was gold, it was silver, it was rubber, now it is oil and gas’.

Pavel Martiarena Huamán, climate activist, photographer and protagonist of Make (Rich) Polluter Pay campaign.

Taxes on the wealth and income of the richest could raise over $9 trillion a year to invest in a green equal future for all.

Politicians from the US, UK, EU and Australia, responsible for passing laws to tackle climate breakdown, are all in the global top 1% of carbon emitters.

The question of who should take action is an easy one to answer. The richest individuals, countries and corporations must act to bring an end to the twin crises of climate breakdown and inequality.

Their excessive carbon emissions must be cut, first and fastest. Most of the carbon consumption emissions of the super-rich come from non-essential luxury goods and services– such as private jets, yachts, or fleets of gas-guzzling cars. As such, they have a far greater capacity to reduce their emissions, and fast.

Their power and influence over politics, the economy, and society must be reduced. The richest individuals, countries, and corporations exert significant sway and power over political and economic decisions. They often derail policies aimed at tackling the climate and inequality crises to protect their financial interests.

A global redistribution of incomes, could raise everyone to a level of $25 a day or above (the World Bank proposed prosperity line), whilst reducing global emissions by 10%, and still leave the global richest 10% with an average income of around $47,000 PPP Pre-tax

Without reducing inequality the incomes of everyone, including the richest, would need to rise 50 times to ensure no one lived below $25 dollars a day, which would require an expansion in the global economy that could destroy the planet.

We can step back from the brink. To do this we need to put the needs of the many ahead of the greed of a few. We need to forge a path towards an Equal Transformation for people and planet. A transformation underpinned by policies that fight both the inequality and the climate crises.

An Equal Transformation will require three things:

1) A radical increase in equality.

2) A fast, just transition away from fossil fuels.

3) A new economic system that focuses on the twin goals of human and planetary flourishing

An estimated 760 million people do not have access to electricity and up to 2.3 billion people still use polluting fuels and technologies for cooking, largely in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia

‘I believe that that we need to make our leaders and the big polluters accountable for making vulnerable communities suffer’

- Marinel Ubaldo, climate activist and survivor of Typhoon Haiyan, the Philippines.

Governments can and must act now by focusing on the following three areas:

1. Rapidly and radically reducing economic inequality to make it possible to bring down emissions and end poverty.

2. Rapidly and substantially reducing carbon emissions, particularly by the richest countries, individuals, and corporations, to keep global warming temperature to the safe limit of 1.5°C. Using taxation of the richest to raise the trillions of dollars needed to fund this transition and to pay for the Loss and Damage already caused.

3. Fundamentally change the goal of our economies to wellbeing for all and planetary flourishing.

New projections by Stockholm Environment Institute and Oxfam reveal that in 2030, the emissions of the world’s richest 1 percent are set to be more than 27 times greater than the level compatible with the 1.5⁰C target. By contrast, the emissions of the poorest half of the global population are set to remain one-fifth of the 1.5⁰C compatible level.

Day & Night in one of world’s richest city

Tai, 64, works as a street cleaner in Hong Kong. With her low daily income, she can only afford to take one day off a month. Working in conditions of extreme heat, while wearing a non-breathable uniform, she often leaves her soaked in sweat. In the street, her only protection is her hat, which she made herself. In these conditions, and many of her co-workers suffer from heat-related illnesses.

Wong and her two children live in a tiny nine-square-metre flat. On a hot day, indoor temperature is often far higher than outside, and turning on the air-conditioner is a luxury they cannot afford. On a rainy day, Wong and her children need to use an umbrella in their own washroom because the roof leaks, the result of damage caused by the last typhoon. 

Hong Kong has more billionaires per million people than anywhere else on Earth. From 2010-2020, the number of ‘very hot weather warnings’ in Hong Kong increased by nearly 160 percent compared to 2000-2009. Typhoons and severe rainstorms have become more frequent – yet not everyone experiences them in the same way

Researchers have calculated that rich countries that have emitted excess carbon owe $192 trillion USD in compensation to low-emitting countries in the Global South.

They must pay for the costs of climate breakdown. The richest not only have the greatest ability to pay; they also have a responsibility to compensate for their historic carbon emissions and their ongoing neo-colonial
extractive practices that have put the future of life on Earth at risk.

The problem is not a lack of money; the problem is that far too much of it is in the hands of a few.

Tax the rich to save the planet now

There are three taxes that, together, could raise more than $9tn to build a green and equal world.

Wealth tax – $1.7tn a year

Oxfam has calculated that a wealth tax on the world’s millionaires and billionaires could generate over $1.7tn per year.9 A top-up punitive wealth tax on investments in polluting activities could raise at least a further $100bn a year10.

Top income tax – $6.4tn a year

An income tax of 60% on the top 1% earners would generate $6.4tn11 per year. Windfall corporate profits tax – up to $941bn

Windfall Profits Tax

Oxfam and Action Aid analysis show that a tax of 50–90% on the windfall profits of 722 mega-corporations could have generated up to $941bn

The Power of youth – Pacific Island students fight the climate crisis

The story started in March 2019. Twenty-seven law students from the University of the South Pacific decided to start a campaign to persuade the leaders of the Pacific Island Forum to take the issue of the climate crisis and human rights to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion.

Led by Vanuatu, Pacific nations soon took up the law students’ call. Support from people around the world poured in. On 29 March 2023 in New York, the UN General Assembly adopted the historical resolution seeking from the International Court of Justice, the World Court, an Advisory Opinion on the question on Climate Change.