Global: Cost of G20 inaction on climate and debt crises “potentially catastrophic”

World leaders attending the G20 summit in New Delhi which starts tomorrow must substantially increase international assistance and provide debt relief to vulnerable states to help deliver urgently needed climate justice and avoid a potentially catastrophic failure to safeguard human rights, Amnesty International said today.

Amnesty International is calling on G20 leaders to deliver on previous climate finance pledges they have so far failed to honour, and to adopt new commitments, including comprehensive relief for countries in debt distress. The debt crisis threatens people’s rights to adequate food, clothing and housing, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the climate crisis poses extreme threats to the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

“The G20 is happening while the world teeters on a knife-edge. The climate crisis is inflicting immense harm on people while at the same time many climate-vulnerable states face a debt crisis. The human rights of billions of people are threatened. The cost of inaction will be catastrophic,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

“Soaring prices of staple foods, economic shocks, and the climate crisis pose unparalleled challenges that many countries are ill-equipped to face, including those that did little to create these global threats. The number of low income countries in debt distress has risen since the Covid-19 pandemic to 42, hampering their ability to safeguard people’s rights, especially because many face recurrent climate shocks.

“It is vital that the G20 acknowledges the magnitude and urgency of these crises and acts swiftly to stop the climate and debt disasters escalating.”

Unmanageable debt

The numbers of people in extreme poverty, living on less than US$2.15 a day, rose in 2021 for the first time since before the G20 began meeting in 1999. Low-income countries are spending more on servicing debt as a proportion of their entire national income than at any point in at least the last 30 years. The target of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030, one of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals agreed to in 2015, will almost certainly be missed.

The G20, which works closely with international financial institutions including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, can help change this by ensuring that debt relief processes are fair, robust and fast enough to effectively tackle countries facing multiple crises.

This includes being prepared to consider more debt cancellation as an option. Debt agreements led by the International Monetary Fund and other multilateral lenders all too often include conditionalities which place additional burdens on the poor and vulnerable and lack the necessary human-rights framework that would help ensure a way out of onerous debt cycles.

The G20 needs to support radical reform of the existing international financial architecture by shifting to a more inclusive system which represents the interests of debtor countries, particularly low-income states, as well as creditors.

Reform should accommodate the devastation of climate shocks; it is not appropriate for countries to fall further into debt as they experience recurrent extreme weather events driven by climate change to which they contributed little.

Climate harms

Amnesty International is calling on the G20 to support drastic action to avert compounding climate disasters, notably by agreeing to the rapid phasing out of all fossil fuels. Average global temperatures are rising fast and without ambitious action now, are set to far exceed the 1.5˚C increase over pre-industrial levels that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has indicated is crucial to protect humanity from the most devastating impacts of climate change.

Agnès Callamard said: “Rapidly phasing out all fossil fuels must be the global priority to avoid a climate catastrophe and further human rights abuses. The world is heading towards a climate disaster and the distress signals are obvious. People are suffering as ecosystems and biodiversity are being destroyed.”

This year severe drought has gripped the Horn of Africa, much of Asia has endured record temperatures, enormous wildfires have raged across swathes of North America and Europe, July was the hottest month ever recorded globally, ocean temperatures are at unprecedented highs, the polar ice caps are disappearing, and record rainfall has caused deadly flooding in Europe and China.

Lower income countries cannot reasonably be expected to meet commitments to stop using fossil fuels if wealthier countries continue to evade their own promises and obligations while failing to provide sufficient climate finance and debt relief to more vulnerable states.

Wealthier nations must deliver, and substantially increase, pledges to provide at least US$100 billion annually, to help states mitigate and adapt to climate change. A separate loss and damage climate fund that was agreed last year must be adequately funded and become operational in a way that provides the most affected groups with effective access to its resources and other forms of remedy.

India, the host of the G20, must respect the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association, and protect the right to protest. In recent years, the Indian authorities have intensified the repression of human rights defenders including activists, journalists, students, and academics and civil society organisations by subjecting them to multiple human rights violations. It must allow civil society to operate freely, and dissenting voices to be heard.

India has identified the climate crisis as the G20’s most pressing priority. As the world’s most populous country with rapidly rising emissions, India should seize the opportunity to play a leading role in a just global energy transition while addressing its own track record in terms of reliance on fossil fuels. The country has endured searing heatwaves, droughts and floods, as well as health-threatening air pollution in various parts of the country in recent months and years, caused by burning fossil fuels.


The 18th Heads of State and Government Summit of the Group of 20 will take place on 9-10 September in New Delhi. It involves 19 countries and the European Union, including most of the world’s largest economies and major sovereign creditors, as well as countries with key roles and influence over major multilateral financial organizations.

The UN guiding principles on foreign debt and human rights provide specific guidance on the human rights obligations and responsibilities of all debtors, and state and non-state lenders, including multilateral development banks.

The right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment was universally recognized at the United Nations General Assembly in 2022 and is linked to other rights enshrined in existing international human rights law, including the rights to health and to life.

This G20 summit comes ahead of the United Nation’s General Assembly High-Level week and the UN Secretary General’s Climate Ambition Summit later this month, as well as the COP28 climate meeting in Dubai, which starts on 30 November.