How a new conversation on finance could bring a sustainability breakthrough

Posted on June, 20 2023

World leaders and financial institutions participating in the Summit for a New Global Financing Pact have the opportunity to forge a new narrative of hope and action, write Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, WWF global lead for climate and energy, and Véronique Andrieux, CEO of WWF-France.
Be in no doubt. A Herculean effort is required to arrest the accelerating crises of climate and nature. As evidence builds of a dangerously destabilised climate, and of our natural world everywhere under pressure, meeting this moment requires us to strain every sinew. Critical to this effort is international cooperation. 

But, within the international arena, the analogy is not of Hercules but of Sisyphus. At summit after summit, the world’s governments push the boulder up the mountainside, only for the weight of mistrust and mutual suspicion to prevent them from reaching the top. 

At the heart of this mistrust lies money. The developing world demands finance to help it respond to impacts and solve problems which are mostly not of its making. Rich governments plead budgetary constraints and fear populist backlash against any settlement perceived as too generous. 

Meanwhile, the world remains deadlocked. Global temperatures rise. Ecosystems face collapse. 

But there are signs that this deadlock could be broken. Conversations are taking place in Paris at the Summit for a New Global Financing Pact this week that could begin to shift how international finance flows. These could help build trust and, crucially, start to deliver real change on the ground. 

The launch last year of the Bridgetown Agenda by Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados, was a critical turning point. In a speech to the Kofi Annan Foundation, she warned of deepening indebtedness among poor countries, driven by climate shocks. She proposed reforms to the world’s multilateral development banks (MDBs) and the International Monetary Fund, to orient their work towards the net-zero transition, climate and nature resilience, and other development priorities. Using their ability to offer guarantees and concessional lending, and by changing the rules around existing international financial mechanisms, such as the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), they could help to channel hundreds of billions of dollars towards sustainability and climate-resilient development. 

Innovations such as these are finding echoes in the work of President Emmanuel Macron of France, co-host of the Summit. It, too, will explore reform of the MDBs and the SDR system, and novel financing mechanisms. Its goal is “to build a new contract between the countries of the North and the South to address climate change and the global crisis”. 

World leaders and financial institutions participating in the summit have the opportunity to forge a new narrative of hope and action, and kick-start finance for a more resilient, nature-positive, net-zero global economy. 

For example, the world’s multilateral development banks could act on their 2021 MDB joint statement on nature, and begin to actively align their activities with the goals of the Paris Agreement and the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. 

The summit could signal political support for innovative financial vehicles under development, such as Positive Conservation Partnerships and Forest and Land Use Investment Packages, which are aimed at funding steps taken by countries to maintain or increase their carbon and nature reserves. These promise to create economic incentives, underwritten by new financing, for developing countries to protect globally vital reserves of carbon and biodiversity. 

Leaders could also meet a critical goal of the Bridgetown Agenda by addressing the unsustainable debt burden facing climate-vulnerable countries. This would recognise the growing threat that climate disasters pose to developing countries’ debt sustainability and promote debt-for-nature swaps and overall better linking climate and nature commitments to sovereign debt obligations, to alleviate pressure. 

Finally, it could make progress on redirecting the $5.9 trillion in subsidies for fossil fuels and $1.8 trillion for activities harmful to nature. It is unconscionable that, in the face of the dual crises of climate and nature, so many governments are actively spending their taxpayers’ money to make the problem worse. And transitioning to a nature-positive economy could generate annual business opportunities worth $10 trillion and create 395 million jobs by 2030.

The summit, co-hosted by India, could help find common ground on finance that drives progress at key events later in 2023 and in 2024 – the G20 summit in New Delhi, the COP28 climate talks in Dubai, and next year’s biodiversity COP. The world’s leaders have an opportunity to collectively put a Herculean shoulder to Sisyphus’s boulder, and finally change the narrative on finance.
ANBATAR, a group of youth from Kampung Taritipan in the district of Kota Marudu, Sabah, Malaysia take the initiative to protect mangrove forest around their village.
© WWF-Malaysia / Mazidi Abd Ghani