Sign the Letter to President Biden, Secretary Yellen, and Special Envoy Kerry

Forgiveness of debt and the restructuring of debt must be included on the US agenda for COP28 and beyond

Take a stand for justice and peace for our vulnerable neighbors in developing nations by calling upon President Biden, Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry, and Treasury Secretary Yellen, to include forgiveness and restructuring as key components of their agenda for COP28 ( the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference) to be held in Dubai from November 30 to December 12, 2023 and in all future U.S policy priorities.

Our world continues to be hit by more frequent climate catastrophes with some of the gravest impacts experienced by our neighbors in developing nations.  However, their governments are saddled with massive debt, and are being forced to choose between funding climate solutions that can protect their peoples or paying off their debt.  Many nations are paying more for debt than they are receiving in climate finance. 

Pope Francis said in Laudato Si’ that “the foreign debt of poor countries has become a way of controlling them.” Releasing them from this debt can release hundreds of billions of dollars that can help them protect their peoples, ecosystems and economies, and participate in the clean energy future. 

Text of sign-on letter to be delivered to President Biden, Secretary Yellen, and Special Envoy Kerry

Dear President Biden, Special Envoy Kerry, and Secretary Yellen,

We write to ask that you place the forgiveness of debt and the restructuring of debt as values and solutions within your agenda for COP28.  It can unlock critical funding to help developing nations meet their goals under the Paris Agreement, adapt to climate change, and address loss and damage.

Our Catholic faith instructs us to prioritize the needs of our poor and vulnerable neighbors and to care for God’s creation.  Pope Francis said “We must continue to be aware that, regarding climate change, there are differentiated responsibilities. As the United States bishops have said, greater attention must be given to ‘the needs of the poor, the weak and the vulnerable, in a debate often dominated by more powerful interests.’” (Laudato Si’, 52) We witness that the peoples of developing countries, least responsible for the climate crisis, suffer many of the most devastating impacts. By 2050, 216 million people in developing nations may be forced to migrate due to climate change. (World Bank)

The international response is well short of the need. Developing countries need nearly $6 trillion by 2030 to meet less than half of their goals under the Paris Agreement. (UNFCCC)  The current UNFCCC climate finance goal of $100b per year does not meet that need. (OECD)  Meanwhile, many developing nations also drown in debt. Between 2011-2021, 59 developing nations spent $234 billion paying off debts while receiving $136 billion for projects designed to address climate change. (IIED)  Debt financing and interests rates in servicing debt makes it difficult for governments to provide their citizens with education, health and climate resilience. Our responses to these challenges must be transformational and grounded in justice and good governance by all parties. 

Forgiveness and restructuring of the sovereign debt of developing countries is one such solution. It would release hundreds of billions of dollars that developing nations desperately need to implement climate solutions that can protect their peoples while transitioning away from fossil fuels. (IIED)  Forgiveness of debt would respond simultaneously and substantively to the polycrises of crippling debt, societal instability, climate impacts, and ecological degradation, under which our vulnerable neighbors suffer profoundly.

We write to ask that you place the forgiveness of debt and the restructuring of debt as values and solutions within your agenda for COP28.  While the UNFCCC alone cannot take on this issue, it is an important  forum to promote solutions among relevant institutions and governments that address the massive gap between the needs and the resources in climate finance. It builds upon the momentum generated by the Bridgetown Initiative, the Loss and Damage Fund, and calls for reforms of multilateral development banks and international financial institutions. Our nation has a bipartisan track record of leading on international debt solutions. Therefore, we ask that the United States lead the global community in prioritizing the forgiveness of debt and restructuring of debt as critical components of climate finance.

If we are serious about addressing the climate crisis and alleviating human suffering, then those of us whose basic needs are comfortably met must prioritize the interests of vulnerable peoples who lack them. It is a central tenet of our Catholic faith.  It is necessary if we are to envision a just and thriving world for all. We hope you will step ever more fully into this vision, and pray that together, we will realize it for our common home, and the common good.

Submitted in faith,