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G20: Leaders must take action to tackle ‘unparalleled’ crises of climate change and debt

© Pradeep Gaur/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Wealthy countries must fulfil climate finance commitments and increase pledges

Debt crisis threatens billions of people’s rights to food, clothing and housing

‘The G20 is happening while the world teeters on a knife-edge' - Agnès Callamard

World leaders attending the G20 summit in New Delhi (9-10 Sept) must substantially increase international assistance and provide debt relief to vulnerable countries to help deliver urgently needed climate justice and avoid a potentially catastrophic failure to safeguard human rights, Amnesty International said today.

Amnesty is calling on G20 leaders to deliver on previous climate finance pledges which they have so far failed to honour, and to adopt new commitments, including comprehensive relief for countries in debt distress.

The debt crisis threatens people’s rights to adequate food, clothing and housing, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the climate crisis poses extreme threats to the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said:

“The G20 is happening while the world teeters on a knife-edge.

"The climate crisis is inflicting immense harm on people while at the same time many climate-vulnerable countries face a debt crisis. The human rights of billions of people are threatened. The cost of inaction will be catastrophic.

“Soaring prices of staple foods, economic shocks, and the climate crisis pose unparalleled challenges that many countries are ill-equipped to face, including those that did little to create these global threats.

“Rapidly phasing out all fossil fuels must be the global priority to avoid a climate catastrophe and further human rights abuses.

"The world is heading towards a climate disaster and the distress signals are obvious. People are suffering as ecosystems and biodiversity are being destroyed.

“It is vital that the G20 acknowledges the magnitude and urgency of these crises and acts swiftly to stop the climate and debt disasters escalating.”

Unmanageable debt

The number of low-income countries facing unmanageable levels of debt has risen since the Covid-19 pandemic to 42, hampering their ability to safeguard people’s rights, especially because many face recurrent climate shocks.

More people are in extreme poverty living on less than US$2.15 (£1.72) a day with the number rising in 2021 for the first time since before the G20 began meeting in 1999.

Low-income countries are spending more on servicing debt as a proportion of their entire national income than at any point in at least the last 30 years and the target of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030 - one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals agreed to in 2015 - will almost certainly be missed.

Cancel debt

The G20, which works closely with international financial institutions including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, can help change this by ensuring that debt relief processes are fair, robust and fast enough to tackle effectively the multiple crises facing countries. 

This includes being prepared to consider more debt cancellation as an option. Debt agreements led by the International Monetary Fund and other multilateral lenders all too often include conditionalities which place additional burdens on the poor and vulnerable and lack the necessary human-rights framework that would help ensure a way out of onerous debt cycles.

The G20 needs to support radical reform of the existing international financial architecture by shifting to a more inclusive system which represents the interests of debtor countries, particularly low-income countries, as well as creditors.

Reform should accommodate the devastation of climate shocks - it is not appropriate for countries to fall further into debt as they experience recurrent extreme weather events driven by climate change to which they contributed little.

Drastic climate action needed

Amnesty is calling on the G20 to support drastic action to avert compounding climate disasters, notably by agreeing to the rapid phasing out of all fossil fuels.

Average global temperatures are rising fast and without ambitious action now, are set to far exceed the limit of a 1.5˚C increase over pre-industrial levels that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said is crucial to protect humanity from the most devastating impacts of climate change.

Wealthier nations must deliver and substantially increase pledges to provide at least US$100 billion annually to help governments mitigate and adapt to climate change.

A separate loss and damage climate fund that was agreed last year must be adequately funded and become operational in a way that provides the most affected groups with effective access to its resources and other forms of remedy.

Soaring temperatures

This year severe drought has gripped the Horn of Africa, much of Asia has endured record temperatures, enormous wildfires have raged across large swathes of North America and Europe with July the hottest month ever recorded globally. Ocean temperatures are at unprecedented highs, the polar ice caps are disappearing, and record rainfall has caused deadly flooding in Europe and China.

Lower income countries cannot reasonably be expected to meet commitments to stop using fossil fuels if wealthier countries continue to evade their own promises and obligations while failing to provide sufficient climate finance and debt relief to more vulnerable countries.

India action

G20 host India must respect the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association, and protect the right to protest.

In recent years, the Indian authorities have intensified the repression of human rights defenders including activists, journalists, students, and academics and civil society organisations by subjecting them to multiple human rights violations. It must allow civil society to operate freely, and dissenting voices to be heard.

India has identified the climate crisis as the G20’s most pressing priority. As the world's most populous country with rapidly rising emissions, India should seize the opportunity to play a leading role in a just global energy transition while addressing its own track record in terms of reliance on fossil fuels. The country has endured searing heatwaves, droughts and floods, as well as health-threatening air pollution in various parts of the country caused by burning fossil fuels.

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