Money Can’t Buy Us A New Planet – The Devastating Climatic Effects of the Wealthiest Lifestyles

The burning of coal, oil and gas—the quintessential greenhouse gas trio— are the main contributors to the production of CO2 emissions. Each and every one of us contribute to climate change every day in some form or another, by merely heating our homes or just using electricity in any capacity. University of Leeds PhD researcher Yannick Oswald conducted a study looking at inequality in energy consumption and asserted that “it is really important to understand the disparity between how much energy is used for basic services” such as heating and “how much is used for [luxuries]”. ᶦ


A 2015 Oxfam media briefing reported that the “poorest half of the global population are responsible for only around 10% of global emissions…while the richest 10% of people in the world are responsible for around 50% of global emissions”ᶦᶦ. The richest 10% of the world’s population are not merely exacerbating the climate issue irreparably, they are amongst the few who have the option not to be affected by climate change and therefore not consider it an urgent cause. To rephrase, the 10% of the population who have the means to sponsor climate research and initiate the move towards a solution to climate change are the ones who are not affected daily by its effects.


A report compiled by Oxfam and Stockholm Environment Institute, found that the top 1% of rich individuals in the world account for double the carbon burden imposed by the poorest 50%.ᶦᶦᶦ Tim Gore, head of policy, advocacy and research at Oxfam International, said, “This isn’t about people who have one family holiday a year, but people who are taking long-haul flights every month – it’s a fairly small group of people,” ᶦᵛ


Yet this ‘fairly small group of people’ contributes more to the climate crisis than the average city. Having more money, travelling the world frequently in private jets, living in mansions, and buying luxury goods also means having a larger carbon footprint. Oxfam’s report highlighted that “…carbon inequality is so stark the richest 10% would blow the carbon budget by 2033 even if all other emissions were cut to zero.ᵛ”


A change needs to be made, as these people are the few capable of initiating it. A viable step forward would be investing in sustainable companies and climate research. Almost half (49%) of ‘Ultra-High Net Worth Individuals’ (UHNWI), which are individuals whose net worth is above $30 million, are younger than 40-years-old. They are reportedly interested in investing in sustainable productsᵛᶦ, showing a trend of interest in the younger generation towards global preservation and an awareness of the growing climate crisis. Although, mere interest does not mean that this 49% of UHNWIs actively invest, only that they recognise the value of doing so.


Recent initiatives have launched towards UHNWIs to present them with investment opportunities, for example, Blackrock’s new ‘Global Impact Fund’ for investors to direct capital to businesses dedicated to solving major world problems,ᵛᶦᶦ which highlights how the importance of sustainable products is growing. Although, UNHWIs may frame their contributions as gracious acts of benevolence, this simply cannot detract from their disproportionate contributions to damaging the Earth. In considering that they are responsible for the majority of the emissions, their contributions to the solution should be considered, not a heroic act, but the least they can do.


ᶦ Yannick Oswald, Anne Owen & Julia K. Steinberger, ‘Large Inequality in International and Intranational Energy Footprints between Income Groups and Across Consumption Categories’ (16 March 2020) http://doi.org/10.1038/s41560-020-0579-8 accessed 17 March 2021

ᶦᶦ Oxfam Media Briefing, “EXTREME CARBON INEQUALITY Why the Paris climate deal must put the poorest, lowest emitting and most vulnerable people first” (Oxfam, 2 December 2015) < https://oi-files-d8-prod.s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/file_attachments/mb-extreme-carbon-inequality-021215-en.pdf> 18 March 2021

ᶦᶦᶦ Tim Gore, Confronting Carbon Inequality (21 September 2020) < https://oxfamilibrary.openrepository.com/bitstream/handle/10546/621052/mb-confronting-carbon-inequality-210920-en.pdf> accessed 19 March 2021

ᶦᵛ Fiona Harvey, ‘World’s Richest 1% Cause Double CO2 Emissions of Poorest 50%, says Oxfam’, The Guardian (London, 21 September 2020) <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/sep/21/worlds-richest-1-cause-double-co2-emissions-of-poorest-50-says-oxfam > accessed 17 March 2021

ᵛ Oxfam, Carbon Emissions of Richest 1 percent More than Double the Emissions of the Poorest Half of Humanity’ (21 September 2020) < https://www.oxfam.org/en/press-releases/carbon-emissions-richest-1-percent-more-double-emissions-poorest-half-humanity> accessed 19 March 2021

ᵛᶦ Capgemini Research Institute, World Wealth Report 2020 (2020) < https://worldwealthreport.com/hnwi-investments-and-behaviors-3/#sustainable-investing-gains-prominence > accessed 18 March 2021

ᵛᶦᶦ Jenna Brown, ‘BlackRock Launches Sustainable Investing- Focused Global Impact Fund’ International Investment (London, 16 April 2020) < https://www.internationalinvestment.net/news/4014013/blackrock-launches-sustainable-investing-focused-global-impact-fund > accessed 18 March 202

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