A tiny fraction of human beings produce the same level of carbon emissions as an entire European country, according to a new climate report.  

The study, published by Oxfam, a poverty alleviation organization, found that the investments of 125 of the world’s richest individuals have a carbon footprint equivalent to the emissions of France. It was published to coincide with COP27, the climate conference underway in Egypt, where discussions on climate finance and resilience are expected to take center stage.

The study looked at the investments by billionaires in 183 corporations and found that their stakes added up to $2.4 trillion. These investments alone are responsible for emitting 3 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, exceeding the average emissions of an individual who doesn’t make up the wealthiest 10% by a million times. 

The findings suggest that 14% of the investments owned by the billionaires fell under “polluting industries,” including fossil fuel and cement. Only one of the billionaires in the pool that was studied had renewable energy investments.

“The role of the super-rich in super-charging climate change is rarely discussed,” Sriskandarajah said. “These billionaire investors at the top of the corporate pyramid have huge responsibility for driving climate breakdown. They have escaped accountability for too long.”

People from low- and middle-income backgrounds have little choice in carbon consumption. But Oxfam argues that the wealthier sections of the population are well-positioned to make climate-conscious choices. 

The report also found that aside from wealthy individuals, many corporations were steering off track in their climate transitions by setting unrealistic near-term goals while promising to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

“We need COP27 to expose and change the role that big corporates and their rich investors are playing in profiting from the pollution that is driving the global climate crisis,” Oxfam’s Great Britain chief, Danny Sriskandarajah, wrote in a statement.

The report recommends that a hefty tax be levied on investments made in polluting industries. Oxfam estimates that such a tax could raise close to $1.4 trillion a year, which can then be used to finance the climate-related efforts of developing nations with fewer means to take action.

It also highlighted a few billionaires as examples of investors can who contributed to benefit the environment, such as Yvon Chouinard, outdoor sportswear company Patagonia’s founder, who placed the company’s ownership in a trust to fight against climate change.

The Paris Agreement, adopted at COP21 in 2015, set a target to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. A UN report last month found that the efforts of countries that signed the agreement were helpful but insufficient. They could put the world on the path of a 2.5-degree Celsius increase in temperatures. 

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