Apr 14, 2023 - Energy & Environment

Meet the woman who may revamp climate finance

Photo illustration of Mia Mottley, Barbados Prime Minister, surrounded by a frame of money and water.

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, who first burst onto the international climate policy scene with a searing speech at 2021's COP26 conference in Glasgow, is now spearheading a push for global institutions to finally meet the challenges of environmental degradation.

Why it matters: Her effort, known as the Bridgetown Initiative, or another like it may help avert the suffering of billions in the developing world, who are acutely vulnerable to a changing climate.

  • Specifically, it could help countries bounce back from increasingly common and deadly climate shocks — from droughts to more powerful tropical cyclones, while preparing for future ones.

Driving the news: At an intimate conference convened in Washington Thursday, on the sidelines of the spring World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings, Mottley said the knock-on effects from extreme weather means that the interests of the developing and industrialized nations are converging.

  • She cited Cyclone Freddy, likely the longest-lasting tropical cyclone on record. In March, its rains and winds devastated parts of Malawi, Kenya and Mozambique.
  • Mottley also pointed to the flooding this week in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. "How much more must happen?" she asked, before leaders from the largest, wealthiest nations take significant steps on climate finance.
  • "The global North needs the investment in the global South, if they are to preserve the stability, the security and ultimately the prosperity of the planet, and by extension, of themselves," she said.

The intrigue: Mottley spoke of “Building anger in the Global South," referencing the failure of industrialized nations to follow through on their climate finance commitments to date, let alone the lack additional pledges.

  • For example, in 2009, rich countries pledged to provide $100 billion annually in climate aid to developing nations by 2020. This figure, viewed by many countries as a minimum, has not been met.
  • When it comes to international climate change funding, developing nations still face an unequal playing field for obtaining loans, and other financial assistance to adapt to climate impacts.

Zoom in: Their loan repayment periods can be far shorter than a typical 30-year mortgage, and interest rates vary depending on the development status of the country.

  • During the event, hosted by the Rockefeller Foundation, Mottley read from a list of some of Barbados' initial (and current) World Bank and IMF loan interest rates. In one case, there was a 400% rate increase.
  • Domestically, Mottley has pioneered the use of loan disaster clauses, which allow for a temporary suspension of payments following an extreme weather or climate event.
  • This can allow a hurricane-prone country like Barbados to still cover their loan obligations, after temporarily diverting funds to storm recovery.
  • Mottley is now working to put a similar concept on the table internationally.

Between the lines: Mottley, along with Rockefeller experts who spoke with Axios separately, said there have been signs of movement during the spring meetings, but that it is not enough.

  • Instead, Mottley is looking to a June summit in Paris, hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron, which aims to engage world leaders in discussing a new global financial pact.
  • Concrete outcomes from this meeting are crucial to the credibility of the COP28 Summit in Dubai later this year, Mottley said.
  • "The world no longer believes what comes out of COP. We need to go to COP28 with a record and not promises," she said.
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