Flooded futures: paying the price for the super-rich’s luxury lifestyles

Blog by Amitabh Behar,, Executive Director (interim), Oxfam International
Published: 5th July 2024

I felt a buzz of energy and calm when I was at the Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development — a feeling quite different from the heaviness of the tragedies unfolding in many parts of Africa.

Tropical storm Filipo, just a year after the devastating Cyclone Freddy, has left hundreds of thousands of people in Mozambique in urgent need of humanitarian support. In Kenya, where I live, relentless waves of torrential rains and deadly floods have displaced thousands of people and caused severe damage to infrastructure. Hidaya, which caused extensive damage and blackouts, has been described as the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded in Tanzania. And I could go on.

Scientists agree that climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, and impacts will only continue to worsen. The world faces twin crises of climate breakdown and runaway inequality. Oxfam recently found that the world’s richest 1% produced as much carbon pollution in 2019 as the five billion people who made up the poorest two-thirds of humanity. Meanwhile, people living in poverty, and countries in the Global South —like Mozambique, Kenya, and Tanzania— are those impacted the hardest.

The super-rich ―a privileged few – are amassing vast amounts of wealth and killing the planet with their luxury lifestyles. They fly around in polluting private jets, and their yachts emit as much carbon as entire countries. Most of the super-rich live in rich countries like Sweden. In fact, 70 percent of the Swedish population is in the top 10 percent globally.  To meet the 1.5°C target of the Paris agreement, the richest 1 percent of Swedes would have to cut their emissions by 93 percent.  Sweden’s super-rich have a huge responsibility and must be held accountable. This is not just an environmental issue; it is a matter of social and economic justice, too.

We must end this era of obscene wealth to save our planet. This means addressing the disproportionate role that the richest individuals play in the climate crisis. 

First, we need to dramatically reduce inequality. A wealth tax on the world's millionaires and billionaires could generate over US$1.7 trillion per year. A further US$6.4 trillion per year could be generated from introducing an income tax of 60% on the top 1 percent of earnersMaking rich polluters pay would reduce their emissions and would also raise money that could be invested in public services, like healthcare and education, and in meeting climate goals. 

Second, rich countries need to cut their emissions urgently and radically. They should stop using planet-killing fossil fuels quickly and fairly. 

And third, we need to prioritize human and planetary well-being over endless profit, extraction, and consumption. We need to stop using GDP growth as the only measure of progress —and start counting what matters instead.

Pursuing infinite growth on a finite planet for the benefit of a select few is unacceptable. We must demand that those with the greatest responsibility pay the highest price for climate breakdown. 

Original piece published in Alinget