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A Powerful Climate Leader From a Small Island Nation


This article is part of us Special Report on Women and Leadership profile of leading women in climate, politics and business globally.


At last year’s United Nations climate change summit in Glasgow, Scotland, a powerful new voice emerged in the global warming debate: Mia Mottley, prime minister of Barbados.

With one impulsive speech on the first day of the 2021 conference, Ms. Mottley described the fight against climate change from a moral perspective, calling on rich countries to help poor countries recover from natural disasters and adapt to climate change. global warming.

“Our people are watching and our people are taking note,” she said. “Are we really leaving Scotland without committing to the ambition so desperately needed to save lives and save our planet? Or are we so blind and hardened that we can no longer appreciate the cry of humanity?”

The speech catapulted Mrs Mottley, 57, to the forefront of the global conversation about climate. And in recent years, she has taken advantage of her power.

She has worked with the International Monetary Fund and private lenders to restructuring terms the debt of Barbados; The country was able to reduce interest payments and would be more flexible in meeting its obligations in the event of a severe storm.

In September, Barbados announced a new project with the Nature Conservancy to offering “green bonds,” instead, allowing the country to redirect some of its sovereign debt payments toward ocean conservation.

And in November, at the United Nations climate change summit known as COP27 in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, Ms. Mottley was back in the limelight, this time presenting a change plan. which she developed to reform the World Bank and the IMF.

Called the Bridgetown Initiative, named after the capital of Barbados, the plan calls for a reshaping of the global economic system that dates back to the dying days of World War II.

The World Bank and IMF were established by 44 Allied nations at a conference at the Hotel Mt. Washington in Bretton Woods, NH, in 1944. The idea was that the World Bank would provide loans from rich countries to poor countries to help them rebuild from war, while the IMF would provide liquidity and stability for countries and ensure that they remain solvent.

But nearly 80 years on, Mottley and her team say those organizations cannot help the countries ravaged by climate change. Usually, interest rates are higher in poor countries than in richer countries.

Only a fraction of the money needed to help countries like Barbados and Pakistan adapt to a warming world is provided. And when developing countries make loans, they are often forced to accept austerity measures that compromise their citizens’ ability to meet basic needs.

The Bridgetown Initiative, developed by Ms Mottley and a team of economists, nonprofit leaders and UN leaders at a meeting in Bridgetown in July, will overhaul the system. that system and rebuilding the World Bank and the IMF. today, their loan terms would be much more favorable to developing countries struggling to adapt to climate change, and more money would be available for such projects.

In Egypt, Miss Mottley make an urgent plea to reform those institutions before the assembled world leaders.

“Yes, it’s time we revisited Bretton Woods,” she said. said in a speech opening the summit. “Yes, it is time for us to remember that the nations sitting in this room today did not exist at a time when the Bretton Woods institutions were largely formed. And so we weren’t seen, we weren’t fully heard.”

Her campaign quickly gained attention, with leaders from France, Canada, the United States and even the World Bank and IMF expressing their support for institutional change. The World Bank now says it is developing a plan this year, and the organizations’ leaders are expected to lay out the details at a series of meetings planned for next year.

For Ms Mottley, who was born into a prominent Barbadian political family and became prime minister in 2018 — the nation’s first woman to hold that office — speaking out on climate change has also brought Her small country rose to a prominent place on the world stage.

Rajiv J. Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation and one of the executives who helped design the Bridgetown Initiative, said: “She is speaking with a unique conviction and urgency to come. from sitting on the front lines of climate change. “At a time when so many countries are threatened by both the climate and financial crises, Prime Minister Mottley has sought to not only lead his nation through challenging times, but also seek to reform the economy. global economy so that it better serves everyone. “

Climate is hardly the only issue occupying Ms Mottley these days. She led Barbados through the Covid-19 pandemic, instituting a series of lockdowns that took a toll on the nation’s tourism economy. Then last year, Barbados officially became a republic, tie cutting with Queen Elizabeth II and away from her colonial past.

But more than anything else, Mrs Mottley’s legacy is shaping up to be one that is defined by her commitment to tackling climate change.

“At a time when many are reverting to tried, tested and failed austerity policies, she has an ambitious vision,” said Mariana Mazzucato, an economist. for Barbados to adopt a green industry and innovation policy underpinned by a new economic mindset”. joined the meeting in Bridgetown,” and redesigned her social contract between government, business, and labor.

“Her legacy is knowing how to talk seriously about why and how to tackle the climate crisis,” says Mazzucato, “putting climate justice at the heart of – not the periphery – of climate justice.” of the global policy response.”

David Gelles is a reporter for The New York Times on the Climate group and covers COP27 in Egypt.

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