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How rich nations have trapped poorer countries into fossil fuel use

The campaign group Debt Justice says rich nations have forced poorer countries into moving past fossil fuels as they struggle to pay back national debts. Its members call for debt forgiveness, which will allow the Global South to begin advancing towards sustainable energy. 

As the global consequences of fossil fuel driven climate change become more evident year on year, many nations are now seriously assessing their options when it comes to producing sustainable energy. 

That said, this vital transition has been primarily afforded to richer nations with minimal debt owed to other countries or financial institutions. These countries, mainly located in the Global North, are easily able to invest their own wealth into building the appropriate infrastructure to set green energy projects underway.

Meanwhile, poorer nations – which often owe large financial sums to richer countries and institutions – cannot afford to do so. They face a difficult situation where they are unable to invest in sustainable energy, because they are obligated to use any profit they earn to pay back loans to creditors. 

This, the anti-debt organisation Debt Justice says, is trapping many poor countries into relying on the use of fossil fuels now and for the foreseeable future. Campaigners from the group suggest that rich countries and financial institutions should cancel debts owed by the Global South and allow their governments to properly invest in their local energy infrastructure. 

Tess Woolfenden, a senior policy officer at Debt Justice said, ‘High debt levels are a major barrier to phasing out fossil fuels for many Global South countries.

‘Many countries are trapped exploiting fossil fuels to generate revenue to repay debt while, at the same time, fossil fuel projects often do not generate the revenues expected and can leave countries further indebted than when they started,’ she continued. ‘This toxic trap must end.’

Although warming temperatures, biodiversity loss, and natural disasters are now affecting the entire planet like never before, it is evident that the Global South has been bearing the brunt of climate change for many years.

Without the appropriate infrastructure for mitigating loss and damage, these countries have been the least prepared to deal with changes to their local climate and environment.

They have also relied on loans to rebuild after natural disasters, which are increasing in severity and frequency. Should nothing change, millions more people will be forced to become climate refugees. 

As outlined in the report by Debt Justice, the debt owed by the Global South has increased by 150 percent in about 10 years. As many as 54 countries are currently in a debt crisis, meaning they are required to spend five times more on debt repayments than on addressing the climate crisis.

For the Global South, the amount of debt owed has become unsustainable. It has backed governments into a corner, where all decisions regarding policy and social welfare are shaped by the fact that repaying debt is the top priority. 

 This, according to civil society leaders in the Global South, has transformed into ‘the new form of colonialism’. Debt Justice believes the only way out of this situation is for these debts to be forgiven – especially when the Global North has played a majority hand in creating the climate crisis in the first place.