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Stabilization of greenhouse gas emissions is not the only obligation the North has failed to meet. Research by the Jubilee Debt Campaign shows that the leading industrialized nations have yet to come close to matching their latest debt relief commitment.

In 1999, the Group of Seven major industrialized nations pledged to cancel US$ 100 billion of debt owed by 52 of the world’s poorest countries. So far, only US$ 18 billion of debt has been cancelled. Only four countries, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and Bolivia, have benefited.

The Jubilee Debt Campaign, based in the United Kingdom, calls this state of affairs “the cruel joke that is debt relief.”

While some countries have moved to lift the burden of debt by cancelling bilateral loans, around 40 per cent of the poorer countries’ debt results from loans from agencies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In the latest rebadging of the IMF’s controversial condition of structural adjustment, nations must now accept the “poverty reduction growth facility” to qualify for debt reduction.

Each government seeking debt relief must prepare a strategy paper to address poverty relief in consultation with civic society to ensure it reflects the real needs of the poor. If the IMF/World Bank agree with the strategy, then debt service is suspended. If, after a review period, the plan is seen to be implemented, then the debt will be finally cancelled.

The Jubilee Debt Campaign argues that there are two problems with this approach. First, the debt is not, in fact, cancelled but is reduced to a so-called sustainable level. Second, the government’s strategy will be looked on more favourably if it contains the main elements of the IMF structural adjustment platform: liberalization, privatization and payment for services such as health and education.

For the marginalized, the burden of debt and the pressure of structural adjustment cannot fail to increase vulnerability to climate hazards and the emerging threat of global warming.

Yet the climate impacts report of the Third Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change fails to give more than a passing mention to these overarching factors when considering differential levels of vulnerability. Population growth, resource depletion and poverty are all cited, but debt is, perhaps, too political an issue.

Further information
Jubilee Debt Campaign, PO Box 36620, London SE1 OWJ, United Kingdom. Fax: +44-20-79221122. Email: ashok@jubileedebtcampaign.org.uk. Web: www.jubileedebtcampaign.org.uk.