Tackling the Climate, Debt, and Inflation Trilemma

The agendas of climate change, inflationary pressures and debt sustainability have substantially been the hot picks of the spring meetings hosted by the IMF and the World Bank.

Climate change represents one of the most pressing existential threats to humanity. The ambitious target of preventing global average temperatures from surpassing the 1.5C threshold is becoming more daunting, largely due to lacklustre policy approaches by wealthy, advanced nations and organizations such as the International Monetary Fund. These entities continue to adhere to neoliberal, austerity-based strategies, which not only increase the cost of borrowing but also restrict funding for essential climate initiatives. Developing countries like Pakistan, burdened by high levels of debt and limited financial flexibility, bear the brunt of these limitations; further exacerbated by the World Bank’s reported lack of prioritizing climate-focused projects.

The agendas of climate change, inflationary pressures and debt sustainability have substantially been the hot picks of the spring meetings hosted by the IMF and the World Bank. The agenda for this year’s meetings, finalized last week, focused on restructuring the global financial architecture, securing additional funding for development and climate-related initiatives, and enhancing international collaboration to tackle various global challenges, particularly those affecting developing nations. For Pakistan, these issues intersect with the country’s economic weaknesses, climate vulnerabilities, and foreign policy obligations.

Regrettably, due to what seems like a lacklustre commitment to multilateral cooperation, advancements in debt relief have lagged far behind the urgent challenges posed by the rapidly unfolding climate emergency and the recession-inducing pandemic. Additionally, progress in enhancing the debt restructuring framework, particularly in effectively involving both China and private creditors, has been consistently slow. The substantial increase in the share of debt held by China and private creditors in the overall debt portfolio, compared to debt owed to Paris Club countries over the past decade, further compounds the issue.

It is crucial for wealthy nations to uphold their pledge of providing $100 billion annually in climate funding to address the needs of developing countries. This commitment holds significant importance for nations like Pakistan, which face substantial financial requirements in the medium-term and are among the most climate-vulnerable regions. There have been ongoing calls, notably through initiatives like the ‘Bridgetown Initiative’ and the document ‘Bridgetown 2.0’, urging multilateral institutions to release a sufficient amount of climate finance.

Debt sustainability revolves around a country’s capacity to effectively manage its debt load without resorting to extreme measures that disrupt the balance between income, spending, and economic growth. The Bridgetown Initiative was introduced to address the flaws and lacunae in the current global financial architecture, which have exacerbated inequalities and hindered responses to the immense climate challenges worldwide. Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados and climate finance envoy Avinash Persaud put forward the proposal during COP27 in Glasgow in 2022. This initiative has garnered support from IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva, as well as the World Bank, UN, French and UK governments, and various Global South countries.

The Bridgetown Initiative aims to access liquidity support by implementing six key strategies:

Firstly, by offering immediate financial aid, including redistributing at least $100 billion of unused special drawing rights through fair means. Secondly, by elevating development financing to achieve a yearly $500 billion stimulus for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) investments. Thirdly, by encouraging the mobilization of $1.5 trillion annually in private sector investments for green initiatives. Fourthly, by reforming the governance structure of international financial institutions to enhance their representation, equity, and inclusivity. Fifthly, by establishing an international trade system that promotes global sustainable and fair transitions. And lastly, by reinstating debt sustainability and assisting nations in restructuring their debt through long-term, low-interest financial schemes.

Pakistan is actively invested in the effectiveness of the Bridgetown Initiative, aligning itself with the V20 Accra-Marrakech agenda on debt sustainability. Introduced at the 2023 spring meetings, this agenda strives to enhance the global debt framework to adequately confront challenges related to debt sustainability. The V20, comprising 55 climate-vulnerable developing nations, is a subset of the extensive Climate Vulnerable Forum established in 2015.

The G20’s Common Framework for Debt Treatments prioritizes debt sustainability by advocating for a fresh set of guidelines and a strategic plan to remodel and optimize the sovereign debt infrastructure. The main goal is to realign the framework with climate action and sustainable development objectives, moving beyond short-term debt stabilization efforts typically championed by the IMF.

Overhauling existing power structures encounters opposition, be it political or technical, in the quest to revamp the global financial architecture to meet the debt and liquidity needs of developing nations. Tackling these challenges will demand long-term dedication to involving various stakeholders. Pakistan’s efforts to secure repayment deferments, restructure its debt, and access international climate funding will be more credible if its narrative aligns closely with global discourse. Achieving this goal will necessitate harmonizing our stance and forging connections with climate-vulnerable communities.

Rameen Siddiqui
Rameen Siddiqui
A thought leader and youth activist with main focus areas being Sustainable Development, Political Economy, Development Justice and Advocacy. A member of the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth (MGCY). Also a Youth Member of United Nations Association of Pakistan (UNAP).