The author is a policy analyst for local campaigns and francophone communities for Climate Action Network Canada.
The recent ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada, recognizing the federal government’s right to carbon pricing, put an end to several years in which the entire climate debate revolved around the program. However, despite the enormous interest this public policy will attract, carbon pricing is only one tool among the full range we will need to respond to an issue as complex and serious as the climate crisis.
One of these tools goes under the radar: simple taxes. However, the climate crisis and the inequality crisis are closely related.
It is common to compare the responsibilities of different countries in relation to the climate crisis: the countries of the G-20, which together account for 85% of global GDP, Produces 75% of greenhouse gas emissions. But for several years, economists have also worked to measure the carbon impact by taking into account inequalities within countries themselves, by level of income. In the face of the staggering increase in economic disparities in recent years, scrutiny of disparities between countries already has its limits.
The Oxfam Carbon Inequality Report, updated in 2020, which examines emissions linked to consumption, shows that between 1990 and 2015, the richest 10% of the world’s population at the time (630 million people) were responsible for 52% of carbon emissions between 1990 and 2015. The richest 1%, or 63 million people, They caused 15% of cumulative emissions, or double the poorest 50% of the world’s population.
The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) That the richest 1% would have to reduce their carbon footprint 30 times to meet the Paris Agreement commitments, while the poorest 50% could still increase their carbon footprint several times, because they don’t contribute much to the problem. The tragic irony of the climate crisis is that they suffer the most.
We are far from equal in terms of the carbon footprint. An approach that focuses on changing individual behavior or that applies equally to all, without taking these inequalities into account, would be ineffective and even regressive.
We can think of air transport emissions, a sector known for pollution where it is technically difficult to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, not all flights have the same carbon impact. A business class flight, and more so in a private jet, will be more polluting than an economy class flight, Because fewer passengers equals more departures. Especially since ultrarich flies at a disproportionately high frequency. for example, From data collected in 2017 byInternational Council on Clean Transportation, an independent NGO, found that just over half of American adults have never flown by plane and two-thirds of thefts are attributable to 12% of the population. So a person who goes to visit his family abroad once a year does not have the same effect as billionaires who board a plane as others in a taxi.
Not surprisingly, in recent years, the sharp acceleration in the concentration of wealth in the hands of a wealthy minority and a few sprawling multinational corporations has worked hand in hand with the global increase in wealth and greenhouse gas emissions. It is no coincidence that the weakness of the tax system and the erosion of public services in many industrialized countries has been accompanied by a blockage or slowdown in adopting the tough public policies needed to flatten the greenhouse gas emissions curve. The abundant resources available to these obscene elites underscore their weight in decisions made by politicians, reinforcing inequality.
Apple, the world’s most profitable company, has for years paid 0.005% tax on its profits thanks to a special agreement with Ireland; ProPublica It was recently revealed that in some years billionaires like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg and Warren Buffett have not paid any pennies to the US government as income tax. We know that too 20 companies in the energy sector are responsible for more than a third of global greenhouse gas emissionsand that many of them spend more than $240 million annually to lobby against climate policies.
Public support for faster action to combat global warming would be bolstered by a more progressive tax system. To borrow the words of the Yellow Vests, who opposed the fuel tax in France: “The elites talk about the end of the world when we talk about the end of the month. ”
It is therefore necessary to take measures aimed at sharing wealth – and power.
This is the case, in particular, with the tax on large fortunes. According to the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), an independent research institute, an annual 1% tax on wealth over $20 million would generate about $10 billion annually. Canada is also the only G7 country that does not have real estate taxes. Another CCPA study shows that an inheritance tax of more than $5 million would generate $2 billion in annual income. In a recently published bookAnd the Wealth sharing!And NDP policy director Jonathan Goffin and economist Angela McEwen advocate a set of measures to properly share wealth. In addition to taxing individual wealth, they propose slaying tax loopholes, increasing income tax for the richest 1%, attacking tax havens and raising corporate taxes.
Many countries have recently adopted policies in this direction, in particular to replenish state coffers and finance post-COVID recovery. A few days ago, the G7 finance ministers announced their intention to set a global corporate tax rate of at least 15% – significant progress, if insufficient. The Independent Commission on International Corporate Tax Reform, a group of experts in support of active international tax reform, has recommended an alternative rate of 25%, Which would raise nearly 950 billion Canadian dollars, while leaving multinational companies three-quarters of their net profit.
Not only could this significant income replenish the coffers of countries heavily indebted by the pandemic, but it could also, in the long run, finance the massive climate investments we urgently need. Remember that according to many experts, 2% of the state’s GDP annually should be devoted to climate action, or the equivalent of $40 billion in Canada.
Thus, better sharing of wealth means killing many birds with one stone for the sake of the climate: reducing greenhouse gas emissions for the wealthy, and redistributing economic capital and political clout — the focus of which increases carbon intensity — for large corporations. We have additional resources to respond to the climate emergency. Without forgetting that social cohesion, closely related to economic equality, is an indispensable tool for confronting such an unjust crisis with each other.