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Dominica after Maria

Hurricane Maria devastated the island nation of Dominica in 2017. (Photo: Tayna Holden/U.K. Department for International Development/Flickr/cc)

Global Blueprint Details Why There Is No Climate Justice Without Debt Justice

"Rich countries must accept their responsibility to pay for the loss and damage already caused."

Jessica Corbett

The global climate and debt crises are connected and wealthy, high-polluting countries aren't doing their part to address either or advance global justice, according to a policy blueprint published Friday by Progressive International.

"Climate justice is essential to the future of the planet, and it is impossible without debt justice."

"Climate justice is essential to the future of the planet, and it is impossible without debt justice," argue authors Tess Woolfenden and Jerome Phelps of Jubilee Debt Campaign.

Woolfenden and Phelps note that leaders of poorer countries are already demanding debt cancellation, citing the climate emergency. They also emphasize that not only is the Global South not responsible for driving up global temperatures, but years of colonialism and unsustainable debt have left it least able to invest in mitigation and adaptation efforts.

The blueprint—which echoes a recent policy brief and ongoing petition from the United Kingdom-based Jubilee Debt Campaign—comes just before this year's United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP 26, set to begin in Glasgow, Scotland at the end of the month.

The pair writes that COP 26 "will be a crucial moment of solidarity between protesters in the street, Global South negotiators in the conference hall, and communities around the world who are rising up to demand collective liberation from debt, exploitation, and climate catastrophe."

As Common Dreams reported earlier Friday, leaders of vulnerable countries are also ramping up climate finance demands ahead of COP 26. Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said this week that at the summit, Pacific island nations will call on rich countries to deliver on previous promises of providing $100 billion each year to help the Global South combat the climate crisis.

To make the case for debt cancellation and other proposed solutions, Woolfenden and Phelps point to Dominica as an example. In 2016, a tropical storm caused damage equivalent to 90% of the Caribbean island nation's GDP. The next year, Category 5 Hurricane Maria wrecked most structures and caused about $1.3 billion in damage, "more than double the value of everything the country produces in a year, a barely credible 226% of GDP."

"Days after Hurricane Maria, Dominica had to find several million dollars for a debt repayment that fell due," the experts explain, noting that the island has also had to work to not be dependent on a single crop, and the Covid-19 pandemic's impact on tourism and remittances.

Though Dominica has reconstructed since the storms and "passed impressive climate resilience legislation that aims to make the island hurricane-proof, through building codes, diversified agriculture, geothermal energy, and sustainable high-end tourism," they write, it is also "assessed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as being at high risk of debt distress."

As Woolfenden and Phelps detail:

Climate-vulnerable countries like Dominica are trapped in a vicious circle of climate-related disasters and debt. Every time they are hit by a hurricane, they go further into debt to cover the costs of reconstruction. As an increasing proportion of their national income goes to debt payments, they are less able to invest in preparing for future disasters, or in rebuilding when they arrive.

Their creditors, who profit from the interest on their mounting debt, are governments and companies in the Global North that caused the climate crisis and its destructive effects in the first place.

While warning against the "false and partial solutions" that "have begun to proliferate," Woolfenden and Phelps offer various suggestions that include but are not limited to large-scale debt cancellation for poor nations.

"As climate-related extreme events become more frequent, the world needs a mechanism that allows countries to suspend debt repayments in the immediate aftermath of a calamity," they write. "A new fund should be created under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, funded by rich and polluting countries, to provide support to countries experiencing climate-related disasters."

"In order to prevent future debt crises, grant-based climate finance must be available to enable countries to adapt to and mitigate the climate crisis without saddling them with more debt," the pair adds. "Rich countries must accept their responsibility to pay for the loss and damage already caused."

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