WHO ARE WE?
We are a global grassroots movement initiated and led by the Global South, building power from the bottom-up by uniting workers, Indigenous, feminist, faith, environmental, social and climate justice movements in the Global North and South, to cancel the financial debt of the Global South in order to enable a self-determined, just transition.
Debt is the most powerful common denominator behind which all of these struggles can unite and fight for global social, ecological and climate justice.
Debt is one of the major driving forces of the climate crisis, which in turn exacerbates the already highly unjust debt crisis in countries of the Global South: Global North creditors such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are forcing indebted countries to extract their fossil resources, such as gas for the case of Argentina, Mozambique, or oil as is the case in Uganda; to turn their agriculture into cash-crop oriented agribusiness, or to cut down their trees, as Tithi Bhattacharaya reports for the case of India: “The forest was no longer a concrete provider for local communities and a habitat for multiple living beings, it was suddenly connected to a world market through abstract relations of indebtedness”. Debt is the tool that forces countries to adopt these extractivist practices because they generate the foreign currency needed to service the debt. This results in an aggravation of the climate crisis, depletion of soils, poisoned waters and devastated or violently displaced communities.
The countries that are most affected by this toxic cycle of financial and material extractivism are often at the same time most affected by the effects of the climate crisis and thus in need of money to react appropriately to the destructive effects of extreme weather events. However, being strongly affected by the climate crisis makes loans more expensive - in terms of higher interest rates - for them because they are a ‘risky’ investment for creditors, which further drives the Global South deeper into the debt spiral.
Source: Debt justice
Global South countries, as well as some countries in the peripheries of the Global North, are economically strangled by massive financial debts granted by international financial institutions under the control of the wealthiest Global North countries, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the Paris Club. Financial strangulation translates into political strangulation, which makes Global North governments and their financial institutions the quasi-rulers of Global South countries. In fact, debt is the form colonialism has taken on today; it is a powerful tool to uphold neocolonial power relations between North and South through which the North can safeguard its access to cheap labor and resources to maximize its profits.
In many cases, these are illegitimate or odious debts, obtained illegally, through corruption, unconstitutionally, awarded to dictators, and/or in violation of the statutes of the credit organizations themselves. In many cases, the initial amount that was borrowed has been paid back already many times over through interest and compound interest payments, making the call for necessary debt cancellation even stronger.
The pre-conditions for all of these extremely devastating extractivist programs are massive land-grabs from Indigenous people and farmers who live on, with and from the ‘resource-rich’ lands. This has been a deliberate tactic of expropriating Indigenous nations: Thomas Jefferson, third president of the USA, purposefully drove Native Americans into debt to force them to cede their lands as repayments.
The consequences of the IMF’s imposition of conditional loans on countries that have been plundered by centuries of colonialism are budget cuts in the public sectors (education, water, health, nurseries etc.), privatization and wage cuts, which make the working class, women and marginalized communities the most affected by the debt crisis, while they are at the same time most affected by the climate crisis.
Source: International Monetary Fund
Canceling the debt of Global South countries is not only just and justified in economic terms, but also in the face of the climate crisis: debt cancellation could lead to enabling resource-rich countries to leave trillions of dollars in fossil fuel reserves in the ground while freeing them from the debt trap and the grip of the Global North, enabling them to begin a self-determined, just energy transition. Debt cancellation will not by itself cover the entire cost of a just transition, but it is a prerequisite for Global South countries to have any chance at tackling the climate crisis, and it is also the lowest hanging fruit to enable climate action at unprecedented scale for the planet.
Without debt cancellation, both climate and social justice will remain an empty phrase. And debt cancellation is only the beginning: we are working towards systemic change along the lines of the New International Economic Order put forth by the Group of 77 Global South countries in 1974. With presence in over 30 countries and growing, we will put an end to financial colonialism by turning debt into climate action!
We believe that the cost of the energy transition should not be borne by the workers but by the wealthiest 1% of humanity, which is responsible for producing twice as many emissions as the poorest 50%, whose carbon footprint is set to be 35 times greater by 2030 than the level compatible with the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement, and which has historically profited from the colonial exploitation of people and territories in the Global South.
This is the reason why, in our actions and protests, we target the people in power and the institutions they represent, both on the multilateral (IMF, WB, Paris Club) and private spectrum (BlackRock, Vanguard, Vulture Funds) of the global debt infrastructure. We need urgent climate action, but the most exploited by the current system are not the ones who should carry the financial burden of changing it: Debt cancellation is a concrete step for climate justice that will not harm the working class in the Global North, contrary to most climate policies currently brought forward, and actively benefits the working class of the Global South.
The Global North owes a massive debt to the Global South, not the other way around!
Developed countries of the global North owe an ecological and climate debt to the countries of the Global South. In addition to being responsible for 92% of excess global carbon emissions causing the climate crisis, their exploitation and colonization of most of the Global South still continues today through their multinational corporations with the systematic plundering of natural resources. According to scientific studies, 100 multinationals are responsible for 71% of global industrial emissions. A large part of these emissions are a consequence of the exploitation of the South, fueling a system of unsustainable consumption, waste and organized production in privileged classes of rich countries at the cost of the growing destruction and sacrifice of populations and their territories in countries of the Global South.
Continuing this colonialism of natural resources is incompatible with the climate commitments of most developed countries. Scientific evidence shows that the current operations of the fossil industry, coupled with future projections that only contemplate more growth and expansion, are seriously undermining the climate commitments such as the Paris Agreement, rendering them impossible to fulfill. As a counterpart to this reality, the countries of the Global South that have contributed the least to the climate crisis will bear the brunt of its consequences, as has already begun to happen today, facing increasing droughts and floods, social destabilization and mass migration that will beget hundreds of millions of climate refugees in the coming decades.
Debt for Climate demands unconditional debt cancellation as a starting point for the richest countries of the Global North to begin to pay their climate debt, which must be accompanied by payments for reparations, loss and damage, and climate finance - not in the form of more loans but as interest-free grants.
The unconditionality in relation to debt cancellation is extremely important: The IMF and the World Bank have already incorporated debt-for-nature and debt-for-climate swaps. These proposals however are nothing more than a greenwashed continuation of the status-quo and will neither cancel sufficient amounts of debt, contribute to the mitigation of the climate crisis, nor change anything regarding power dynamics between rich and poor, North and South. Debt for Climate stands for the unconditional cancellation of Global South countries´ financial debt in order to enable a sovereign, self-determined, just transition. As such, we do not support greenwashing programs promoted by the very institutions responsible for the debt and climate crises our countries are facing, and which have imposed an agenda of financial colonialism onto the Global South since their inception. As Audre Lorde famously said: “The master’s tool will never dismantle the master’s house”.
WHAT ARE WE PLANNING TO DO TO ACHIEVE THIS?
That's why we are coming together to confront the agenda of exploitation and neocolonialism of the Davos elites, BlackRock, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, amongst others, organizing mobilizations in Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe and North America to push for a Global South-led alternative to the current economic system.
We are working to build a broad global convergence of forces towards 2025 as a strategic horizon. 2025 will be a new Jubilee Year, following the last Jubilee Year 2000 which gave rise to the Jubilee 2000 & Jubilee South campaigns. This will help put debt cancellation at the center of the mainstream public debate, supported by a context of the deepening debt and climate crises. The same year, COP30 will take place in the Amazon - a showcase example of environmental destruction and Indigenous resistance, as well as a major symbol of the health of the planet due to its attribution as the ‘lungs of the Earth’ - with the progressive leaderships of Presidents Lula and Petro already bringing the topic of debt into the political discourse and pushing for urgent action to protect the Amazon.
Through a combination of strikes, demonstrations, direct actions and critical education, our vision is to build a global common sense towards 2025 that debt cancellation is a sine qua non condition for Global South countries to have any chance at affording a just transition, and to galvanize enough support and momentum to put debt at the top of the climate and political agenda. We need to build enough power in order to have a strong standing by 2025 to effectively use the discursive and political opening of that year to implement debt cancellation at a large scale and from an anti-colonial position.
In the timeline leading up to 2025, we are planning strong mobilizations around the IMF & WB Annual Summit which will be held in Marrakech, Morocco, this year, including co-organizing a counter-summit in Marrakech from October 12th (International Day of Indigenous Resistance) to October 15th (Thomas Sankara Day). In 2024 we will mobilize around 2 highly symbolic historical dates: The 80th anniversary of the conception of the IMF & WB in the context of the Bretton Woods Agreement, as well as the 50th anniversary of the New International Economic Order by the G77.
Our movement is inspired by the legacy of Thomas Sankara and his call for the creation of A United Front Against Debt. We understand that in order to achieve debt cancellation at truly significant levels, we must affect pressure from within Global South countries, in combination with pressure in the centers of power of the Global North.
If you are doubting that this endeavor could ever be achieved, we want to remind everyone of the most striking case of debt relief: On February 1953, Germany received a debt relief of more than 60% of the foreign debt it had accumulated from before, during and after WWII, and conditions of repayments so favorable countries of the Global South can only dream of, such as being allowed to pay the remaining debt in their own currency. Many of the countries who signed or later accessed the London Agreement of 1953, are today highly indebted (Argentina, Sri Lanka, Greece, Pakistan) and yet Germany boycotts any type of progressive step towards solving the debt and the climate crises. To put it clearly:
What was possible in 1953 for the country responsible for WWII, is more than possible today to enable a just transition for countries of the Global South, which would benefit the entire planet with climate action at an unprecedented scale!