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Don't sleep on this climate warrior: Mia Mottley.
French President Emmanuel Macron is getting a lot of credit for convening an impactful climate finance summit last week. But he had a co-host, and the ideas came from HER.
I do have a fun new podcast episode to share, but before I get to that, I want to start with some promising news on the global climate front and bring a name to your attention that should be seared into the history books.
First, the news. Some 40 global leaders, including presidents, heads of state, and ministers, met last week at a two-day climate finance summit held in Paris. The agenda included such once impossible-sounding topics as a global tax on shipping and jet fuel and — this is the big one — a loss and damage fund to support countries who suffer from climate disasters and extreme weather.
And there were some wins! For example, the World Bank agreed to pause debt repayments (on new loans) for countries that are hit by natural disasters. The International Monetary Fund will make an additional $100 billion available to vulnerable countries, and will take in money from rich countries and make available a first-of-its-kind $200 billion in lending over the next 10 years.
These ideas don’t come out of nowhere, and this is where the name comes in. Because while French President Emmanuel Macron is getting all the headlines for convening this Paris summit, this event actually had a co-host who had better be getting a lot more credit in the future. That’s this woman, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley.
Mottley galvanized COP26 in Scotland in 2021 with her refusal to let Barbados and the other sinking nations of the global South be ignored, overlooked, or left to drown. From Business Insider:
A 2-degree Celsius rise in global temperature would be a "death sentence" for island and coastal communities, Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley said in a powerful speech at the COP26 climate summit on Monday.
"We do not want that dreaded death sentence, and we have come here today to say, 'Try harder,' " she said.
And she is coming with solutions. From the New York Times:
She worked with the International Monetary Fund and private lenders to restructure the terms of Barbados’ debt; the country was able to lower its interest payments and will be granted more flexibility in meeting its obligations in the event of a severe hurricane.
In September, Barbados unveiled a new project with the Nature Conservancy to offer “blue bonds,” allowing the country to redirect some of the money intended for servicing its sovereign debt toward the conservation of the ocean, instead.
And then last year, at COP27 in Egypt, Mottley unveiled the Bridgetown Initiative; an effort to rewrite the 1944 Bretton Woods agreement that established the World Bank and the IMF, and to rebuild both institutions for the climate economy.1
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Explainer time: The World Bank was meant to be the lender, helping poor countries recover from the war, while the IMF acts as a sort of federal reserve, using a financial instrument called Special Drawing Rights — basically it guarantees liquidity, because the SDRs are backed by the currencies from rich countries. Countries can draw down SDRs in exchange for cash, and don’t have to pay them back But over time, the institutions have gotten stingier and stingier in their lending, interest rates have gotten higher, requirements have gotten more onerous, and the dollar amounts are not even close to enough.
Mottley proposed a stripped-down version of the Bridgetown Initiative in 2021, at COP26, to what were effectively crickets. She told the Glasgow gathering that there’s plenty of precedent for using the World Bank and the IMF for disaster relief, citing the $650 billion in SDRs the IMF issued during the COVID-19 pandemic. And in the year between COP26 and COP27, she and her team of economists produced a concrete proposal plan that called for $650 billion from the IMF and $1 trillion in low-interest loans from development banks. And that got some attention. So much so that last month’s summit was convened.
Now, yes, the Paris summit produced a fraction of that; let us hope it’s not the last steps in the right direction, but make no mistake that it’s the right direction. And it is Mottley’s actions, work, moral authority, and specificity of purpose that led to this months’ summit. Congratulations to Macron for hopping on her bandwagon, but much as she is exhorting the global North to try harder in terms of reducing emissions and cleaning up the mess that richer nations have made of the planet, I hope that we will also try harder in giving the credit where the credit is due.
I should also say here that while coverage of the June summit was light on mentions of Mottley, the New York Times did profile her and her efforts in December of 2022 … as part of their “women and leadership special report.” Sigh. Try harder.
Keep your old gadgets out of the pool
On a different note, but also on the loose topic of repair, this week’s episode is also about not behaving like a rich jerk who uses the rest of the world as your dumping ground. I talked with one of my longtime favorites, Kyle Wiens, the CEO of iFixit, about his 20-year quest to get people to repair electronics, appliances, coffee makers, shoes, bags, wigs … anything, really. He’s also the de facto leader of the Right to Repair movement, which is trying to pass state (and hopefully federal) legislation that not only makes it legal to repair your own electronics and cars and other items, but directs companies to make parts and manuals available outside of their usual “authorized dealer” circles.
And yes, if you’re wondering why it needs to be explicitly legal to repair things you buy with your own dang money, credit the 1998 update to federal copyright law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which was designed to stop you from ripping DVDs. That legislation made it illegal to break the encryption on manufactured products, and to distribute any tools to break that encryption. And suddenly, everything from Apple devices to John Deere tractors were locked up tight as a drum with no way in for the fixing.
At least partly as a result, electronic waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world. We humans produce more than 50 million metric tons per year. Only 20 percent is recycled, and when it ends up in landfill, it leaks mercury and lead into ground and groundwater, and when it’s burned, it releases similarly toxic chemicals and creates air pollution.
And consumer electronics are among the more carbon-intensive things we humans produce, considering all the mining of raw materials that goes into creating chips, batteries, and all the other components or a phone or tablet or computer or totally disposable-by-design AirPods.
The good news is that as Kyle points out, the solution here is pretty easy. Lower your impact by being lazy, and by saving tons of money doing DIY. Oh and get involved in demanding the right to actually fix the things you buy. I mean. Right? How absurd.
See you next week!
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If Bretton Woods is sounding familiar from previous newsletters, it’s because I wrote about it here, after reading The End of the World is Just the Beginning, in which Peter Zeihan argues that Bretton Woods is actually collapsing, because the US has no interest in maintaining and financing this global order anymore. I argued that we need to stay in the globalization pool for exactly the reasons Mottley is demanding: to help the world cope with climate disasters. Also, yay, it’s been too long since I had a footnote!