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Delivering Community Power CUPW 2022-2023

Billionaires and the planet cannot coexist

According to a new Oxfam report, billionaires emit a million times more greenhouse gases than the average person

Economic CrisisEnvironment

Representative image of industrial emissions with an aircraft in the background. Photo by Mladen Borisov/Unsplash.

A recent report by Oxfam finds that the C02 output of the average billionaire is one million times greater than 90 percent of the world’s population. Unsurprisingly, there is also a clear disproportionality of billionaires between the Global North and the Global South: 75 percent of the world’s billionaire population is located in just 15 countries, while 60 percent of the world’s ultrarich elite are in North America and Europe. Worse, the number of billionaires in these countries is growing every year while the planet barrels down a “highway to climate hell.”

In Canada, a country where food bank use has risen 35 percent since March 2019 and the deputy prime minister is posing Disney+ cancellations as a solution to the cost of living crisis, the number of billionaires is growing at a rate of 15 percent annually, faster than the global average. At the same time that the world’s most ecologically toxic class thrives in Canada, the federal government is spending five times more on a warship acquisition than it is on decarbonization initiatives.

There are currently 3,311 billionaires in the world, and the number is growing while the global poverty rate rises to more disastrous heights every year. During the COVID-19 pandemic, billionaires increased their wealth by almost 60 percent, the equivalent of a new billionaire every 30 hours. For every billionaire created during this period, however, roughly one million people sank into extreme poverty.

North America is home to the largest number of billionaires with a grand total of 1,035. Sixty of these are in Canada, making Canada the country with the twelfth-highest concentration of billionaires, beating out Brazil, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates. A May 2022 report from Oxfam Canada found that Canada’s 41 richest oligarchs own as much wealth as the poorest 40 percent of Canadians. These billionaires are the leading figures in Canada’s most lucrative media, technology, food, clothing, and pharmaceutical companies.

While catering to the life-destroying billionaire class, the Canadian government has made next to no progress in curbing C02 emissions even though Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues to pitch Canada as a climate champion. Currently Canada has the second-highest per capita emission rate of all G20 countries, behind only Saudi Arabia, while since 1990 Canada has had the highest proportional increase in CO2 emissions relative to G7 countries.

At the recent COP27 summit, the idea of climate debt was forwarded by many Global South nations. Under the wording of “loss and damage” financing, Global South representatives proposed that the continents which bear the most responsibility for the global climate crisis, North America and Europe, help pay for damages resulting from the alteration of the climate. This model of climate cooperation was proposed in the 2000 Havana Programme of Action and elaborated on in the 2010 Cochabamba People’s Agreement, a document which called for “the decolonization of the atmosphere” and stated that “[d]eveloped countries, as the main cause of climate change, in assuming their historical responsibility, must recognize and honor their climate debt in all of its dimensions as the basis for a just, effective, and scientific solution to climate change.”

By and large, the political leaders of the world’s most ecologically destructive countries dismissed the demand. At COP27, US delegates were allegedly angered by Egypt’s request for climate reparations for the Global South, while UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak flatly said that reparations are “not on the table.” Former UK Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg then stated that “there is no need for reparations” because Britain’s “leadership of the industrial revolution brought prosperity to the world.”

The people’s movements of the Global South, which are responsible for elevating the idea of climate debt to the international stage, are correct. There can be no sustainable economic transition without climate debt and the reorganization of the governments, economies, and societies of the Global North, which are allowing ecological destruction to run rampant within and beyond their borders as a result of their arrogance, wastefulness, and unwillingness to hold the billionaire class to account.

Without genuine limits to growth and wealth accumulation, these destructive processes will continue to intensify at the precise moment that they need to be challenged and dismantled.

Owen Schalk is a writer based in Winnipeg. He is primarily interested in applying theories of imperialism, neocolonialism, and underdevelopment to global capitalism and Canada’s role therein. Visit his website at www.owenschalk.com.

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