As part of churches’ campaign for the Zacchaeus Tax as a call for repentance for excessive riches amidst endemic poverty, several ecumenical partners organised a “Tax the rich, save the planet” discussion as a side event during COP26 on 8 November.

During the session, speakers discussed how proposals from social movements for tax justice and reparations – as called for in the ecumenical Zacchaeus Tax campaign – can help realise climate justice. In particular, they explored how a global tax and economic system can deliver equity and make reparations for the exploitation of people and planet.

Mariana Paoli, global advocacy lead for Christian Aid, reflected that the tax and climate communities must work more closely together to fight for national or international tax systems to better address climate change. “Climate finance is essential to deliver climate justice but it is also dependent on tax justice,” she said. “A ‘climate damages tax’ as proposed by the Make Polluters Pay Campaign tax on the fossil fuel industry can accelerate the switch to renewable energy. Scaling up a just transition is key to address the climate crisis.

“Carbon taxes and wealth need to be understood as an issue of equity: while the poorest 50% of the world’s population are responsible for 7% of cumulative emissions, the richest 1% alone are responsible for 15% of cumulative emissions,” said Paoli.

Rev. Dr Peniel Jesudason Rufus Rajkumar, global theologian for United Society Partners in the Gospel, said the challenge for us is to choose whether we will decide to stay in this world or choose to be part of a different world. “To be part of a different world we need repentance, redistribution and reparations,” he said. “Let us choose life so that we, and our children, and the earth, our common home may live.”

Rajkumar concluded with a question on how one can envision and embody an alternative way of life in contrast to the ‘iron smelter’economy of fossil-fuel consumption.

Rev. David Haslam, founder of Church Action for Tax Justice, which recently launched a Wealth Tax campaign, said: “The use of tax havens by the wealthy must be stamped out. Salvation came to Zacchaeus when he gave back four times what he had extracted.”

“There is a role for just global tax system in promoting ecological sustainability in a situation where the planet needs both saving and there is a need for planet repairs”, said Priya Lukka, from the Goldsmiths University of London.

This event was jointly organised by the World Council of Churches, Council for World Mission, Lutheran World Federation, World Communion of Reformed Churches, and World Methodist Council