Prime Minister Philip ‘‘Brave’’ Davis took center stage yesterday at the New York Times Climate Forward conference in New York alongside International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva and World Bank President David Malpass.
They sat down for a panel discussion titled, “Money in Action: Closing the Climate Financing Gap”.
It was an opportunity for Davis to speak on the many small countries that have been failed by high-income countries that have long promised to provide affordable climate resilience financing to low-income countries.
In the case of the World Bank, The Bahamas per capita income has long since risen from the ranks of those that would qualify for loans from the institution, though it notably approved an emergency loan during the height of the pandemic.
Prior to the pandemic, the IMF was also owed no money by The Bahamas.
We have since taken advantage of a special drawing rights vehicle offered by the body after the COVID-19 pandemic hit to access $250 million in funding.
To be clear, though the pandemic was the most real and present danger our country has faced in the past two-and-a-half years, the specter of catastrophic hurricanes made worse by climate change looms large.
The prime minister’s message to the world’s bankers was clear: We are in danger, we are unfairly disadvantaged and talk alone by those with the power to act will not help.
“We, who are the most vulnerable, are pledge-fatigued,” he said.
“We need action and we need to find ways and means to have the industrialized world, countries, who have been burning fossil fuel for centuries that has this cloud of carbon in the air, [it is] time for us to let them pay the bill.”
It was an important stage to be on and Davis acquitted himself well.
No one can legitimately accuse Davis of sitting on the sidelines with regard to climate change.
It is his signature issue, sometimes to a fault.
But since coming into office a year ago, he has made climate change and its economic ramifications a priority, calling for consistent climate financing at lower rates.
Davis said yesterday that this is critical to the survival of vulnerable nations.
“We also have to address the criteria for accessing financing,” he said.
“Yes, we hear the World Bank. Yes, we hear the IMF. But we need to address the criteria for accessing these funds.
“They say we are a wealthy country, but having had five hurricanes in the last four or five years, that has ratcheted up our debt beyond a sustainable level, why would you want to lend us more money to make it more unsustainable for us?”
Davis also called for greater leeway in repaying The Bahamas’ growing debt.
He has been a proponent of debt forgiveness and using carbon credits to trade for debt.
Yesterday, Georgieva not only agreed with using carbon credits to pay off debt, but encouraged Davis to keep agitating for it.
“Let’s take your example,” the IMF head said to Davis.
“You suck in carbon, why not provide to your creditors not money, but carbon credits that have monetary equivalents? Is that possible? Yes, it is possible. It is hard but it is possible. And the bank and fund, we have been thinking, how to create key performance indicators that would allow a country to swap its debt for climate investments and climate resilience or in a mitigation program.
“It is important that you guys keep pressuring us to find the solution. It’s not easy. The World Bank invented carbon trading when the word didn’t yet have the Kyoto Protocol.”
Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley last week addressed the Committee on Financial Services of the US House of Representatives.
That could lead to the Caribbean Community having much needed protection from unfair de-risking practices that have damaged our economies and correspondent banking relationships.
While Davis does not possess Mottley’s electrifying gift of public speaking, he has sounded the trumpet on climate change and its impact directly on The Bahamas long enough to speak comfortably on the issue among the major players in world finance.
And, more importantly, the major players are taking notice.
Last month, the government held a two-day climate change summit with CARICOM leaders to construct a practical approach to improve access to climate financing ahead of the United Nations COP27 in Egypt in November.
Efforts by Davis, Mottley and other Caribbean leaders show that while our collective economic resources do not have the power to change the trajectory of certain aspects of global finance policy, our collective voices certainly do.