Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A stark example of what deep economic inequality looks like in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo: Tuca Vieira)

Rising Inequality and Climate Change: The Defining Challenges for Global Leaders in 2015

Winnie Byanyima

 by Oxfam International

Significant progress has been made in the last decade. Global poverty rates are falling. Child and maternal mortality rates are down, many more children are in school, and the total number of people going hungry in the world is falling – albeit all far too slowly.

Yet extreme economic inequality is out of control and getting worse. From Ghana to Germany, South Africa to Spain, the gap between rich and poor is rapidly increasing. At the World Economic Forum last year, Oxfam released a statistic which made headlines: Just 85 rich individuals held more wealth than the poorest half of the world's population - 3.5 billion people. Now, a year later, that figure has become more extreme - just 80 billionaires have the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of the planet.

Across rich and poor countries alike, this inequality is fuelling conflict, corroding democracies, and damaging growth itself. Not long ago those who worried about inequality were accused of partaking in the politics of envy. In the last year this concern became officially mainstream as voices from the Pope to Christine Lagarde to President Obama cautioned of its impacts. The mounting consensus: left unchecked, economic inequality will set back the fight against poverty and threaten global stability.

At the same time, the impacts of climate change are exacerbating this growing divide. As temperatures rise, extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and severe, crop and livelioods are being devastated, and the efforts of people on low incomes to feed their families are being undone. Those who are least to blame, are suffering the most.

Setting a course for action

Rising inequality and climate change: These are the defining challenges for 2015. This is the year when we will have to set a course for action for a sustainable and just world.

What action can we take? These profound global challenges require bold responses.

In October last year Oxfam launched a global campaign to tackle inequality, Even It Up, in which we pledged to campaign for years to come on a seven-point plan to close the gap between the rich and poor, focusing on measures ranging from public financing for free health and education, to decent work and wages and political participation for all.

This year, our collective energy must focus first on international tax reform. To make headway on tackling inequality a more ambitious, far-reaching and inclusive process is needed to fix the broken international tax system, to prevent corporations from dodging the taxes they owe and to give governments the resources they need to tackle poverty and inequality. Yesterday’s international tax system is not fit for purpose – let alone fair – today. 2015 must be the year world leaders re-write fragmented global tax rules that reward those who avoid their civic obligation, and leave the poorest to foot the bill.

World Tax Summit

For this reason, Oxfam is calling for a world tax summit in 2015, which would allow a discussion between all countries, rich and poor, to set the basis for a permanent body to set, implement and arbitrate fairer international tax rules.

On climate change, 2015 could be a pivotal year if our leaders rise to the challenge. Last year we saw the latest scientific assessments confirm more clearly than ever the scale of the danger we face from a warming world. And we saw the response of citizens: in September in New York, l joined a hundreds of thousands on a march to demand real action on climate. We were joined by many thousands more in other cities worldwide.

Climate agreement

This year, governments have a chance to secure an agreement at the UN that could be a turning point in the fight to cut and ultimately end greenhouse gas emissions, and secure the support vulnerable communities need to adapt to climate change.

In recently months private companies have made some encouraging climate pledges and commitments to clean energy.

But ultimately, governments must lead and act on the issues that affect citizens and our planet most. Only with political leadership can we get the global action that a growing number of people around the world are demanding.

In Davos, I look forward to a robust and frank discussion about these issues, which challenge vulnerable communities and powerful businesses alike.

© 2021 Oxfam International
Winnie Byanyima

Winnie Byanyima

Winnie Byanyima is the executive director of Oxfam International. She is a leader on women’s rights, democratic governance and peace building. She served eleven years in the Ugandan Parliament, and has served at the African Union Commission and as Director of Gender and Development at the United Nations Development Program.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Infuriating Disappointment': Biden DHS Ramping Up Deportations to Haiti

"It is unconscionable for the Biden administration to resume deportation flights to Haiti, despite the country's ongoing political, economic, and environmental disasters."

Jessica Corbett ·

Architect of Texas Abortion Ban Takes Aim at LGBTQ+ Rights While Urging Reversal of Roe

"Make no mistake, the goal is to force extreme, outdated, religious-driven values on all of us through the courts."

Jessica Corbett ·

Ahead of Canadian Election, Bernie Sanders and Rashida Tlaib Endorse NDP

"Bernie, you have fought courageously for public healthcare, affordable medication, making the rich pay their fair share, and tackling the climate crisis," said party leader Jagmeet Singh. "We're doing the same here."

Jessica Corbett ·

US Urged to End Drone Strikes After Pentagon Says Killing 10 Afghan Civilians Was 'Horrible Mistake'

"That was not a 'mistake,'" said journalist Anand Giridharadas. "War crimes are not oopsies."

Brett Wilkins ·

40+ NYC Activists Arrested for Protests Against Banks Fueling Climate Emergency

"We're sending a message loud and clear that the little action that politicians and greenwashing CEOs have taken so far does not begin to deal with the magnitude of this crisis."

Jessica Corbett ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo