The UN Development Programme (UNDP) is working on an initiative that would see rich countries write off debt owed to them by Small Island Developing States (Sids) in exchange for the money being spent on climate change adaptation.
But development agencies are concerned the proposal conflates legitimate and illegitimate debt. Tim Gore, Oxfam’s global head of policy for food and climate change says: “They are two separate issues and just merging the two, you could argue, is one way to let developed countries off the hook.”
“It’s definitely an interesting proposal, but I think it’s fundamentally unjust,” says Alex Scrivener, a policy officer for the World Development Movement. “There’s a big difference between the climate debt accrued by rich countries as a result of their emitting CO2 over a long period of time and the often unjust debt which has been accrued by poorer countries,” he says.
Unjust debt, says Scrivener, is often “dictator debt” – money lent by rich countries to poor countries ruled by strongmen, who commonly used it to finance military ventures or vast follies. It is estimated at US$735bn and makes up almost one fifth of the total debt owed by the developing world. But the only Sids with dictator debt is Haiti, says Gail Hurley, a UNDP development finance specialist....