We must ensure the biggest polluters pick up the tab

Image of Marinel

By Jamie Livingstone

Whenever there’s a storm, Marinel says her automatic reaction is to immediately seek refuge. It’s been a decade since super typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful typhoons in history, struck her country the Philippines, leaving behind a trail of death and destruction. 

But the passing of time has done little to help Marinel process the trauma of watching dead bodies float by in the street.  

Instead, she has turned to climate activism, telling my Oxfam colleagues she feels a moral responsibility to push for change, saying: “I simply cannot accept that our people in the Philippines are dying because of a phenomenon – the climate crisis – that we haven’t even caused.” 

Marinel’s sentiment cuts to the core of the climate conundrum: it is a crisis deeply rooted in and fuelled by inequality, with the people who did the least to contribute towards the climate emergency being hit first and worst by its impacts. 

Climate culpability is crystal clear. New Oxfam research released today reveals the stark gap between the carbon footprints of the super-rich – whose carbon-hungry lifestyles and investments in polluting industries like fossil fuels are burning our world – and the majority of people across the world.  

Our analysis shows that the richest 1 percent of the world’s population produced as much carbon pollution in 2019 as the five billion people who made up the poorest two-thirds of humanity put together. 

Startlingly, every year, the emissions of the richest 1 percent cancel out the carbon savings coming from nearly one million wind turbines and, in 2019 alone, will cause 1.3 million heat-related excess deaths, roughly equivalent to the populations of both Edinburgh and Glasgow combined, with most of these deaths happening before 2030. 

Even here in Scotland the richest households are driving climate chaos; with separate analysis published by Future Economy Scotland showing that the carbon footprint of the richest 5% of households in Scotland are, on average, four times greater than the poorest 5%. That rises to 11 times more when it comes to their emissions from flying. 

We cannot allow the richest to continue polluting the planet to the point of destruction.  

Instead, governments must make the biggest and richest polluters change their behaviour and pay up for the damage they’re causing; driving down emissions and inequality while scaling up investment in transformative climate action.  

Oxfam has shown the potential of such action: the UK Government could have raised up to £23 billion last year if it had implemented a series of common-sense taxes on the UK’s biggest polluters – fossil fuel companies and the extremely rich. 

Along with the Prime Minister, the First Minister too, must act, by using the upcoming Scottish Budget to implement policies that ensure the biggest polluters – rather than ordinary people – pick up the tab for the damage they’ve done. 

Marinel says acting on climate change will enable her to look her children in the eyes and tell them she did something. Will the First Minister be able to say the same? 

 This article originally appeared in The Herald.