Tackling the debt, climate and nature crises together

June 2020 to June 2022

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, urgent debt relief is needed. This is an opportunity to change how debt relief is addressed and delivered. Over the next two years, IIED will be working to have creditors and receiving countries take up climate and nature programme swaps – a system that makes it possible to tackle the debt, climate change and nature emergencies together, in order to reduce poverty and ensure an inclusive and sustainable post-COVID recovery. 

A sea turtle

In 2018, the Seychelles swapped millions of dollars in sovereign debt for action to protect nearly a third of its marine areas (Photo: Stéphane Enten via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0)

Debt has long been a major concern for many developing countries. Repayments mean that vast amounts of money are diverted from action on the climate emergency and biodiversity loss as well as education, health and infrastructure. With the economic impact that will follow the pandemic, the urgency and pressures of debt on developing countries is even greater as millions more women, children and men are being pushed into poverty.

The use of climate and nature programme swaps would benefit lender as well as debtor countries. 

Project objectives

  • Produce analysis on how debt relief can be addressed through climate and nature programme swaps.
  • To facilitate a coalition of creditors and debtors to take forward debt relief for climate and nature programme swaps: this requires an engagement strategy to be developed and implemented.
  • To support the rollout in selected countries of debt for climate and nature programme swaps: this involves country analysis of the key aspects of a country-level debt for climate and nature programme swap.

IIED’s role 

  • IIED is liaising with possible coalition members among creditors and debtors, including the IMF, UK and Swedish governments. 
  • IIED is advocating with the G7 and G20 for its members to support debt relief for debt for climate and nature programme swaps.  
  • IIED is working with UNDP to engage with possible countries particularly small island developing states (SIDS).


Innovative financing for Africa: harnessing debt for climate and nature, Sejal Patel, Paul Steele, Laura Kelly, Jean-Paul Adam (2021), Issue paper | en français

Redesigning debt: lessons from HIPC for COVID, climate and nature, Dev Useree (2021), Issue paper

Whose debt is it anyway? A sustainable route out of the crisis for low-income countries, Stephany Griffith-Jones, Marco Carreras (2021), Issue paper

Tackling the triple crisis. Using debt swaps to address debt, climate and nature loss post-COVID-19, Paul Steele, Sejal Patel (2020), Issue paper

Additional resources

Video interview: G20 needs to upscale debt for lower income countries, expert says, CNBC interview with IIED's Paul Steele (July 2021)

Video presentation: Tackling the triple crisis of debt, climate change and nature loss (February 2021)


Irish Aid

Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)

International Development Research Centre (IDRC)

IIED is seeking additional funds from the UK government and the Canadian government. 

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