Having emerged in recent years as a leading voice in the developing world’s push for climate finance, Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados, renewed her calls for reform of the global development finance system ahead of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) annual spring meetings.
In the lead-up to the week-long gathering in Washington DC, which opened on Monday 10 April, Mottley and Rajiv Shah, the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, wrote that international financial institutions have “not yet done enough” to support poor countries that face multiple converging crises, including climate disasters, poverty and increasing hunger. “When humanity is facing some of the gravest crises in history, an inadequate response has left countries and people feeling increasingly alone,” they said.
The average debt-to-GDP ratio of Caribbean nations. Though not a simple metric of an economy’s health, a ratio above 77% can hinder economic growth, according to the World Bank.
The meeting’s agendas, they added, “offer little reason for optimism” to believe help will come for lower-income countries that are swamped by debt and unable to deal with the climate crisis. Among them are many in Mottley’s own region, the Caribbean, where island nations are highly vulnerable to extreme weather, while debt levels average 90% of GDP.
Mottley took office in 2018 with more than 70% of the vote, becoming the first woman to hold the position since Barbados gained independence from Britain in 1966. Long active in the country’s politics, she has campaigned against pollution, climate change and deforestation, and turned Barbados into “a frontrunner in the global environmental movement”, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.
The Barbadian leader has garnered increasing international attention since she delivered a lauded speech at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt in November 2022. At the opening ceremony, she called on developed countries to unlock funding for climate-vulnerable countries. “There is no way that developing countries can fight this battle without access to concessional funding,” she said.
At the conference, Mottley also launched the Bridgetown Initiative, an international coalition made of private, public and philanthropic leaders seeking to reform the global financial architecture. She had first proposed the idea at the 2021 UN climate summit, COP26 in Glasgow, and in July 2022 hosted a meeting to further develop its proposals in Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados that lends the initiative its name.
There is no way developing countries can fight this battle without access to concessional fundingMia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados
The core message of the Bridgetown Initiative is that lower-income countries need new ways to relieve debt and, in turn, invest in climate resilience and mitigation. The group wants the World Bank, IMF and other multilateral financial institutions to take the lead in raising over US$1 trillion a year to support developing countries’ sustainable development and climate goals, as well as making up for loss and damage caused by extreme weather events.
The World Bank–IMF spring meetings bring together central bankers, ministers, private sector executives, civil society representatives and academics. Barbados has not sent a representative to the Washington event, choosing to focus instead on building a strategy for its global coalition that will push for financial reforms.
French president Emmanuel Macron has already backed the Bridgetown Initiative, which was at the centre of the talks during Mottley’s visit to Paris in March. Their next meeting may come in June at the Summit for a New Global Financial Pact, convened by Macron and which will seek to build on the initiative’s calls for reform.
Elsewhere, John Kerry, the United States’ special presidential envoy for climate, has also expressed openness to Mottley’s ideas for multilateral finance reform. The Barbados prime minister has even attracted support from the financial institutions’ leaders, including Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the IMF.
At an opening of the spring meetings on Monday, Georgieva commented that the crises the world faces “have pushed the burden back” onto poor people, and made calls for “structural reforms to uplift productivity” and offer prospects for countries’ growth. In discussion with Georgieva was David Malpass, the president of the World Bank Group, who added that “there is an urgency for policy changes” amid mounting debt crises and climate extremes. He was not explicit, however, on whether these changes included reforms to the financial system.
But questions on whether the World Bank will change its lending model or how it will address poverty and global warming may take longer to be answered, particularly during a transition period at the top. In the coming weeks, Malpass – who has faced fierce criticism and pressure over the bank’s commitment to climate action and his personal stance on climate change – is expected to hand over to Ajay Banga, previously chief executive at Mastercard and a chair of the International Chamber of Commerce.