Thirty per cent increase in debts leaves African countries unable to fight climate change and nature loss

Press release, 17 February 2022
Debt stocks in 40 sub-Saharan African countries increased by a third early in the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving countries vulnerable to climate change and nature loss unable to address these crises.

According to data from the World Bank analysed by IIED, on average, debt stocks in the 40 countries increased by 33.4% as a percentage of Gross National Income (GNI) between 2018 and 2020.

The analysis is being released at the start of the European Union-Africa summit in Brussels which will have climate change as a major focus. Several African countries, including Kenya, Angola, Senegal and Ghana, are among a number of nations worldwide facing high levels of debt, major vulnerability to climate change, and serious threats to their biodiversity, and one African nation – Cape Verde – tops the list.

IIED chief economist Paul Steele said: “The economic repercussions of the pandemic have strained economies around the world. Debts are likely to have grown even greater as the pandemic has developed and many African states have borrowed heavily to bankroll healthcare and social welfare. Any moves to address climate change and the loss of nature have to take this into account.”

Research by IIED and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has suggested creditors should embrace innovative financing to help African economies cope with their growing debt burdens and address climate change and environmental degradation.

Sejal Patel, an IIED researcher, said: “Restructuring debt so that it’s linked to programmes designed to tackle climate change and nature loss could protect the lives and livelihoods of millions of people who are already suffering the effects of global warming but have done the least to cause it.”

African debtor countries have a strong case to make with creditors to link debt financing with increased spending on inclusive and growth-enhancing climate adaptation, mitigation, or nature investments. Debt financing from creditors would be paid against the African governments’ delivery of these investments.

The G20 finance ministers agreed the Debt Service Suspension Initiative in 2020 but this only supported immediate relief on interest payments rather than systematic initiatives to redesign debt financing to support post-COVID recovery. Chad, Ethiopia and Zambia are the only countries going through a process of debt restructuring and relief under the G20’s Common Framework, suggesting limited potential for support being provided.

Media enquiries

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact Sarah Grainger via sarah.grainger@iied.org or +44 7503 643332

Notes to editors

The increase in debt stocks was measured between 2018 and 2020 using data from the World Bank’s World Development Indicators. The World Bank debt statistics contain data for 40 of 48 sub-Saharan African countries.

Climate risk was taken from the World Risk Index produced by Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft, an alliance of German NGO’s

The mapping of countries with high debt levels, high climate vulnerability, biodiversity potential and credit-worthiness is an update to analysis first presented in 'Innovative financing for Africa: harnessing debt for climate and nature' by Jean-Paul Adam, former finance minister of the Seychelles and the director of technology, climate change and natural resources management at UNECA; Laura Kelly, IIED's director of Shaping Sustainable Markets; Paul Steele, chief economist for IIED; and Sejal Patel, environment economist at IIED. A version is also available in French.