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Until the recent completion of an infrastructure project, Kenneth Blades was able to keep only part of his farmland watered. Credit: Erika Larsen/Redux, for The New York Times

The Climate Debt Crisis

How punishing debt stands in the way of small islands protecting themselves from climate change.

In partnership with Living on Earth.

As superstorms become more frequent and the planet grows hotter each year, the economic costs of climate change are adding up. Few regions are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than the Caribbean, with its multiple climate hazards and crumbling infrastructure. Those islands also happen to carry more debt, relative to the size of their economies, than anywhere else on the planet. ProPublica reporter Abrahm Lustgarten went to Barbados to investigate this intersection and found that rising sovereign debt is now a hidden but decisive element of the climate crisis.

Told through the experience of Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Mottley, Lustgarten illustrates how gatekeepers to global finance like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank have been slow to account for climate change realities, pushing classical economic approaches that wind up making the climate debt problem worse. Mottley initially tried to work within the global economic system, but she gradually came to see the trappings of that system as an offspring of colonialism: Just as outsiders once pillaged the Caribbean for wealth created by enslaved people, investors in these former imperial powers now squeeze former territories for their assets, for access to markets and for interest on loans. The profits extracted from these territories helped underwrite the Industrial Revolution and, paradoxically, gave rise to the very climate changes that now make the Caribbean one of the most vulnerable places on the planet.

At this event, we will convene a panel of experts to discuss how debt stands in the way of making climate investments, how that debt accumulated and potential policy solutions. Our speakers include:

  • Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica reporter
  • Avinash Persaud, chairman of the CARICOM Commission on the Economy
  • Colin Young, executive director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center
  • Steve Curwood, host of “Living on Earth” (moderator)

This event has ended.