climate change social justice wealth

Guest post: Debt and the climate crisis – a perfect storm

A guest post from the Jubilee Debt Campaign to mark their rebrand to Debt Justice this week.

We all know the climate crisis is here, it is devastating people’s lives now and urgent action must be taken. But we won’t get very far unless we also address harmful debt in lower income countries.

Debt might feel far removed from the issue of climate, but in reality, we cannot address one without the other.

Take Zambia for example, a southern African country of 18 million people on the front of the climate crisis. In 2022 alone, Zambia is expected to pay $2.7 billion in debt repayments to its creditors, far exceeding the amount the government is able to invest in healthcare, education and addressing the climate crisis. In fact, my organisation, Debt Justice (formerly Jubilee Debt Campaign), has calculated that Zambia is currently spending four times more on debt repayments than it is on addressing the impacts of the climate emergency.

Zambia is not alone. Many countries vulnerable to the climate crisis are trapped paying vast sums to creditors every year, limiting their ability to act on multiple crises affecting citizens while wealthy lenders line their pockets.

At the same time, wealthy polluting nations still refuse to provide adequate climate finance as a form of compensation for their role in creating the climate crisis. This means countries most vulnerable to the climate emergency have no choice but to cover these costs themselves, forcing many further into debt.

In 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated the Caribbean Island of Dominica, causing $2 billion worth of damage, the equivalent of 330% of the country’s GDP at the time. In the absence of adequate finance from wealthy polluters, the Dominican government had no choice but to borrow to fund its recovery, causing a steep increase in their level of debt from 68% of GDP in 2016 to 78% in 2017.

Lower income countries are being forced into debt to pay for a crisis they did not create.

The case of Zambia and Dominica show us that to achieve climate justice, we also need to achieve debt justice. This means cancelling the debt so lower income countries have the resources they need to respond to the climate emergency, and wealthy polluters finally paying up for the devastation they have caused so countries are no longer forced into debt to pay for a crisis they did not create.

While attention on this is growing, action is slow to follow. Now more than ever we need a strong and powerful movement for debt justice to demand wealthy polluters and creditors play their part, in line with demands from lower income countries.

This is why we have rebranded to Debt justice – so we can best contribute to growing the debt justice movement and expand the impact of our work during this time of multiple, urgent crises.

You can find out more about our work here.

Feature photo by Bart/Flickr


  1. I don’t believe that richer countries are solely responsible for the climate crisis. I believe that poorer countries have contributed their fair share to the problem. In fact, I read recently, I believe it was on this website, that India, for example, is still burning large amounts of coat (the dirtiest form of fuel which should be outlawed) and plans to continue doing so for the foreseeable future.

    1. Richer countries are not solely responsible, but the emissions of the wealthiest vastly outweigh those of the poorest – by no means a ‘fair share’!

      India features among the countries with the highest cumulative footprints, but it also has a billion people. On a per capita level, India’s citizens are not over-consuming. They do need to abandon coal as soon as possible though, for their own people as much as anyone.

      The 20 countries most responsible for climate change

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