Warren Buffett Isn't Doing Enough to Cut Carbon Emissions

Warren Buffett Isn't Doing Enough to Cut Carbon Emissions

Warren Buffett is the world’s six-richest person in the world with a fortune of $125 billion, thanks to his multinational conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett’s company owns many energy, insurance, and railway businesses, known to be pumping massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Climate activists have complained that when compared to similar companies, Berkshire Hathaway has not done enough to cut its carbon emissions, nor will it provide detailed climate disclosures to shareholders. Next week, Berkshire Hathaway will hold its annual shareholder meeting in Omaha, where a vote will be held on a proposal to review how the company handles climate risks and other environmental measures.

Euprime: Warren Buffett on Abel details Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s actions on climate change, January 24, 2022.

Why This Matters

Studies have shown that in 2015, the top 10% of wealthiest people in the world were responsible for around half of the global emissions, making them some of the biggest contributors to climate change. Deemed the "polluter elite,” the group has had a disproportionate impact on global warming, the effects of which hit people of color and lower socioeconomic status harder. Further, when rich people and their companies refuse to take responsibility for their carbon footprint, it becomes more difficult for individuals to make meaningful impacts on the climate crisis.

In order to keep promises made in the Paris Agreement, companies and governments must start significantly reducing their carbon emissions by 2030. This would include closing down all coal-powered plants and running on 100% clean energy within the next decade. Holding big conglomerates like Berkshire Hathaway accountable for their contributions to climate change is vital to limiting the planet’s warming to under 1.5 degrees Celsius and ensuring climate commitments are honored.

Greenpeace: What is Environmental Racism?, March 19, 2021.

Robin Hood: "This is Loss and Damage - Who Pays" narrated by Mark Strong, September 23, 2021.

Empty Promises

Gregory Abel, the CEO of subsidiary Berkshire Hathaway Energy and eventual successor to Buffett, told investors that the company will meet Paris Agreement commitments by 2030. However, this claim is extremely misleading because Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s biggest subsidiaries are electric utilities, which will require massive cuts to their carbon output in the next decade (up to 80%).

Abel also told investors that Berkshire Hathaway intends on keeping 14 coal-fired power plants in operation beyond 2030, which goes against the Biden Administration’s own commitments to the Paris Agreement. In addition to Berkshire Hathaway, the Energy and Policy Institute has found that many big companies have a number of accounting tricks that make their climate progress seem better than it is, which means few are actually on track to meet their climate pledges.

CNBC: Jim Cramer on Warren Buffett's comments on climate change, May 3, 2021.

NBC: Are Major Companies Living Up To Their Net-Zero Pledges To Combat Climate Change?, February 10, 2022.

Our Eden: Your Bank is Funding Climate Change, November 13, 2021.

CBS: Huge carbon emissions cuts needed, UN climate report finds, April 4, 2022.