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IMF World Bank bike protest

As world leaders traveled from the World Bank and IMF annual meetings to a G20 dinner on October 12, 2022 in Washington, D.C., more than 100 cyclists took to the streets during rush hour to protest the institutions' failure to respond to the climate emergency. (Photo: Eric Kayne/AP Images for Glasgow Actions Team)

'Cancel the Debt': Climate Protests Disrupt World Bank Summit

"The Global South must urgently adapt to the climate emergency so that it can protect its people from a crisis they did nothing to cause," said Extinction Rebellion. "But it can't do this while it remains heavily indebted."

Brett Wilkins

A week of direct action targeting the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group continued in Washington, D.C. on Thursday as protesters interrupted regularly scheduled summit business to demand the financial institutions cancel Global South debt and stop fueling the climate crisis now.

Members of Glasgow Actions Team and other groups drowned out a Thursday afternoon press conference by leaders from Group of 20 nations by shouting, banging makeshift drums, blowing airhorns and vuvuzelas, and generally rousing a racket.

"We're tired of the World Bank defending their funding for fossil fuels," Glasgow Actions Team director Andrew Nazdin said in a statement. "We're tired of their false promises. So today we're drowning out the press conference to say that it's time for the bank to stop funding fossil fuels and throw their full strength behind a just transition to clean energy."

Earlier on Thursday, activists from the D.C., Philadelphia, and New York branches of Extinction Rebellion joined with peace activists from CodePink and other organizations in demanding the IMF and World Bank cancel developing world debt. Activists blocked entrances to conference buildings and staged sit-ins where they beat drums and chanted "cancel the debt."

"The Global South must urgently adapt to the climate emergency so that it can protect its people from a crisis they did nothing to cause," tweeted Extinction Rebellion Washington, D.C. "But it can't do this while it remains heavily indebted. Failure to cancel the debt = murder."

On Wednesday evening, more than 100 bicyclists with ShutDownDC and more than 10 allied groups took to the streets of the nation's capital for a rush-hour demonstration calling out the IMF and World Bank's failure to adequately address the climate and debt crises.

"The World Bank has poured $15 billion into fossil fuels since the Paris climate accord, and the IMF imposes a global economic order that favors corporate power over human needs," said Basav Sen, a member of ShutDownDC and Arm in Arm D.C.

"It's fitting that people on bicycles, on wheelchairs, on foot, and other forms of nonmotorized transport are confronting them as they try to celebrate," Sen added. "It's a beautiful metaphor of people power versus fossil-fueled corporate power."

Another bicycle protester told Agence France-Presse: "We believe that the World Bank and the IMF must immediately cancel all debt. That is particularly important for countries in the Global South. We believe that they must pay climate and colonial reparations to those same countries."

Some activists took aim at World Bank President David Malpass, who recently refused to acknowledge that burning fossil fuels causes climate change. Climate campaigners, U.S. Democratic lawmakers, and others have called for the World Bank to fire Malpass, who has since attempted to walk back his comments. 

Earlier this week, CodePink activists crashed a debt restructuring panel to hang a banner demanding that the international financial institutions "cancel all debts."

Meanwhile, activists also staged demonstrations around the world, from London to communities throughout Africa, to denounce IMF and World Bank policies and actions.

More direct action is set to go down on Friday, dubbed "World Bank Action Day." At noon local time, Glasgow Actions Team will lead a protest outside World Bank headquarters in D.C. to denounce the institution's continued financing of fossil fuel projects.

"Despite its climate pledges to prioritize clean energy projects and green economies," the group said, "the bank has provided billions in public financing for overseas coal, oil, and gas projects and enabling policy reforms."

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