Can the world’s billionaires lead the climate change fight as politics fails?
- The business community makes almost all the products the world consumes and can limit environmental impact at the design stage
- Governments and politicians have simply failed to get their act together on a wide range of issues, climate change chief among them
The human cost was more than 900,000 people killed and 38 million displaced. Look how US Treasury debt rose from US$5.8 trillion in September 2001 to US$28.4 trillion by August 2021.
Just 100 of these private and state-owned companies have been responsible for more than 70 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions since 1998, according to the Carbon Disclosure Project. Most products’ environmental impacts are determined at the design phase, so the business sector can retool these green products quickly. That is the profit opportunity.
This is not sustainable for politicians or for businesses. In 2012, billionaire businessman Richard Branson said, “our only option to stop climate change is for industry to make money from it”.
One reason for the change of mind is that the finance industry realised climate change imposes huge financial risks. It created the Task Force on Climate-Related Disclosure to pressure the industry to act on climate change through financial disclosure.
The task force reported US$640 billion in costs from climate-related natural disasters, with up to US$43 trillion in financial assets at risk by 2100.
If politics is toxic, only the corporate sector can lead action on climate change. The top 500 asset managers control more than US$104 trillion of assets, with the top 20 controlling 43 per cent. Convincing a small number of key corporate owners to act will make a serious difference on climate action.
The Amazon stores the equivalent of four or five years worth of human-made carbon emissions, up to 200 gigatons of carbon. At US$50 per tonne for carbon, the Amazon is worth US$10 trillion to the world. By comparison, Amazon.com’s market cap is almost US$1.8 trillion.
The top 1 per cent of the world’s wealthiest people held US$173.3 trillion in 2019. Could some friendly billionaires club together to buy the real Amazon from Brazil, whose total external debt is US$548 billion?
This might sound like a joke, but climate change is deadly serious. If business is not serious about climate change, then start scrambling to get on the next billionaire’s space flight, just like what happened in Kabul.
Andrew Sheng writes on global issues from an Asian perspective