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Debt campaigning this year and what remains at stake

Published on 8 December 2021

Debt is crippling governments abilities to care for their own citizens across the world.

And it’s those living in poverty who are bearing the brunt. Sixty-four of the world’s poorest countries spend more on debt repayments than on healthcare for their own people. Billions of pounds are spent paying interest to rich governments, private lenders and financial institutions instead of being spent on saving lives.

The Covid pandemic tipped many countries into a debt crisis, leaving them unable to provide basic needs to their people. Things we might take for granted in the UK, things like healthcare, education, COVID vaccinations and dealing with the impacts on the climate crisis.   

HSBC AGM debt campaign

Many countries cannot breathe because debt is a knee on their necks. Debt dictates spending choices, determines priorities, drives decisions, which are ultimately about who thrives and even who dies.

- Njoki Njehu, pan-Africa coordinator of Fight Inequality Alliance

From 2020 you’ve been standing alongside people living in poverty and joined us in campaigning to cancel the debt.

Last year the richest governments did provide some limited debt relief but the big banks and other private lenders refused to do anything to help.

What are leaders in the global south calling for?

Global South government leaders have made repeated calls to cancel the debt.  Malawian president Chakwera called on rich countries and private companies ,“I say again, cancel the debts”. And the PM of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley, stressed “we are either going to find ourselves servicing debt or servicing people. We have to make the choice”. 

Even the World Bank Chief David Malpass has regularly called out private creditors for “trying to get as many payments from the poorer countries as we can during a crisis”. But private creditors continued to dig their heels in, with a huge and unacceptable human cost.

Van with campaign message goes to HSBC AGM

Van with campaign message goes to HSBC AGM - Jess Hurd

Africa has been spending three times more on debt payments to big banks than it would cost to vaccinate the entire continent against Covid-19. Lower income countries are spending five times more on debt than on measures to deal with the climate crisis. 

You made sure debt was on the agenda at COP26

Whilst the UK hosted the UN climate talks, COP26 in November, we called on the Prime Minister to get debts cancelled to support those on the frontline of the climate crisis.

In the run up to talks over 30,000 of you signed the petition to the PM, calling for debt cancellation in addition to climate finance that rich countries had promised to deliver. 

At COP26 itself campaigners from around the world came together and stood in unity with those on the front lines, demanding that there can be “No Climate Justice without Debt Justice” and debt was discussed on the fringes of the talks.

Our friends at Jubilee Debt Campaign also planned to launch a giant inflatable Loch Ness Monster into the docks close to the summit, calling for debt cancellation and climate justice, demonstrating the monstrosity of debt. Unfortunately, Nessie was arrested before they made it into the water. Find out more here.

Although nothing concrete was agreed upon, the final deal at COP26 did recognise debt as an issue for the first time. The link between debt and climate will continue to be on our minds as we look to the next COP hosted in Egypt.

Behind the scenes we have also been lobbying the UK government and MPs to put in place laws to force the big banks to provide debt relief. Christian Aid partners in Kenya, Nigeria, Guatemala and el Salvador are building up debt campaigns in their countries and we will look for ways to act in solidarity with them in 2022. 

With more people still being pushed into poverty by the pandemic and with debt at record levels, we are not giving up. We’ll keep you informed about opportunities to act.