It takes a lot of money to create change. That’s the reason most of us are relatively powerless against the biggest crises and issues the world is facing, and the unfortunate explanation behind the slow uptake we’ve seen from governments based around the world.
For those in possession of the largest cash reserves, any real sense of commitment to sustainability has, so far, proven relatively elusive. Something to be delayed. There’s no denying the fact that boosting even a single nation’s sustainable infrastructure – wind farms, commercial solar installations, better public transport, regenerative farming – comes at a mammoth cost, but, however daunting, the prospect still pales in comparison with the risk of allowing the climate crisis to spiral further out of hand.
This is, of course, at the heart of what any campaigner, environmentalist, climate scientist, ecologist, or direct victim of global warming has been saying for many years now – or, in some cases, decades. This has gone a long way to changing opinion and opening the public’s eyes to the potential realities we face but, without the right investment, those potentials will become cast-iron in the near future.
For some nations, there are no excuses. But, for others – and, unfortunately, for many countries who feel the effects of the climate crisis most acutely – a lack of funding from wealthier nations puts them in a perilous position, unless something can change soon.
The Fight For Barbados
Barbados is one of a growing list of nations that have felt the severity of the climate crisis first-hand. The Caribbean is an intensely vulnerable subregion when it comes to natural disasters like hurricanes, which have decimated communities in recent years, and flooding as a result of tropical storms. Access to fresh, clean water, shelter from the elements, food, and medical aid have all been (and, in some cases, remain) at peril as a result. What’s more, guarding infrastructure against the potential for further natural disasters is, in many cases, beyond the realm of possibility without funding.
What’s more, as communities are razed by these national disasters, Barbados’s tourism industry – which accounts for more than 17% of GDP – is also under threat.
It’s a sadly ironic truth that many of the countries and regions hit hardest by the climate crisis are relatively minor contributors to global warming. A large percentage of global carbon emissions stem from just a small number of powerhouses – China, the USA, India, Russia, and Japan, which all produced more than 1,000 million tonnes of CO2 in 2019.
Protracted dry spells and shortened wet seasons are anticipated to threaten agriculture and risk flash flooding as the ground hardens under the sun. Coral reefs are under threat as a result of rising sea levels, along with livelihoods that depend on coral as a vital natural resource. And, as global warming continues to increase the risk of infectious diseases, the country’s population is at risk from all angles – along with its economy.
Neither Barbados nor the Caribbean at large is an isolated case study. Nations and communities around the world are struggling to meet the climate crisis with any degree of preparation. Burundi, which is responsible for just 0.02% of global carbon emissions, currently faces an increase of 200% to land degradation by 2050. According to a recent report, 2022 saw 43,000 Somalians (many of them children) die as a result of the longest drought ever recorded in the country. Both feature on the World Population Review’s Poorest Countries list.
Barbados, like so many other nations, is short on the two most precious resources we have when it comes to fighting climate change: money and time. But, thanks to Prime Minister Mia Mottley, the country is not preparing for its swansong just yet.
Mia Mottley’s Blueprint for Reform
Mia Mottley has been spearheading the Caribbean fight for better climate action for many years now, and her seminal speech at COP26 in 2021 will long be remembered as a key moment in the conference’s history.
Last year, at COP27, she reiterated the importance of nations coming together to ward off catastrophe, highlighting the world’s ‘collective capacity’ for transformation, and how much stronger our response to crisis can be when we address a universal problem with universal solidarity.
But words only take us so far, and Mottley knows that better than anyone. That’s why she came armed with a full-scale plan – one that demands a greater financial commitment from wealthier nations, and ensures the troubles caused by such high CO2 emissions are effectively off-set by the biggest contributors. Mottley is rightfully demanding more from the global finance system – an overhaul of the ‘natural order’.
Barbados exists in a region of high regional debt, and its fiscal history is incredibly complex and, for the most part, emblematic of the ways in which global finance falls short for poorer nations. It would be disastrous if Barbados’ ability to tackle global warming were just another victim of this broken system.
The Bridgetown Initiative
The proposal – a joint effort between Mottley and long-time friend Professor Avinash Persaud – was made public last year. Named the Bridgetown Initiative, it involved the release of $100 billion from the International Monetary Fund (fast-tracked by Special Drawing Rights) and low interest borrowing between members which is set to benefit poorer nations in need of large cash injections for pursuing renewable and regenerative projects, like solar energy and ecological restoration. Private investment should also see a boost, topping up the original $100 billion to somewhere in the region of $1.5 trillion available for fighting the climate crisis.
What’s more, Mottley proposes that policymakers introduce grants for loss and damage as a result of natural disasters written into the fine print of bank loans, relieving Barbados and other poorer nations from the financial burden of restabilising itself after disasters. This will become increasingly important as vital sectors – agriculture, building, health, and energy – are threatened by freak weather and increasingly inhospitable seasons.
She also emphasises the importance of Debt Sustainability, with fast-tracked debt relief talks with a view to easing the burden on the shoulders of poorer nations, still struggling to balance their economies.
Governance also needs to be changed. Richer nations typically have far greater input – an antiquated fact that must give way to the twenty-first century sooner rather than later. Inclusivity sits at the very centre of climate activism, particularly when it comes down to governing international financial institutions.
$100 billion could do a lot for helping the world cope with climate change – and that’s before private investors begin tossing their hat into the ring.
What Needs to Happen?
Mottley and Persaud have already seen plenty of positive reception, but there is still a way to go before the Bridgetown Initiative becomes a reality.
On 22nd June 2023, Paris plays host to the Summit for a New Global Financial Pact. There, Mottley’s Initiative will (hopefully) represent a key topic of discussion, and we will move one step closer to a better future for the Caribbean, and other nations facing a similarly bleak future.
The summit will play host to key decision-makers, including Ajay Banga, president of the World Bank. Sunak is not expected to attend the event – instead, Minister for Development Andrew Mitchell is expected to represent the UK.
It’s hard not to feel a little sceptical about leaders’ abilities (or willingness) to take on promising new ventures for climate reform, like agrivoltaics and soil regeneration. The past few years have seen considerable work done – and promises made – at summits and conventions hosted around the world with a view to tackling the climate crisis once and for all and, so far, very little has been turned into a reality. However, the strength of the Bridgetown Initiative and the passion behind it are promising, and we can only hope talks are positive as the summit draws to a conclusion.
Inclusivity in Climate Activism
The greatest outcome of the Bridgetown Initiative is widespread change – change that protects the world’s most vulnerable communities against global warming’s most destructive and increasingly commonplace disasters, and ensures the right amount of funding for them to make real progress in the face of otherwise severe conditions.
But, beyond that, we can hope for another outcome that is sorely needed. As a collective, we need to recognise the ways in which the climate crisis is actively skewed in favour of wealthier nations. Global warming has, in an alarming list of cases, enabled the rich to grow richer. It has also been exacerbated by the rich, with single individuals making greater contributions to carbon emissions in the space of a year than many will contribute over the course of an entire lifetime.
The Bridgetown Initiative may spark widespread change, making climate activism a reality in some of the hardest-hit countries, but it may also mark the dawn of a new era – one where change is brought to those who need it most, rather than those who can afford it.