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Getting It Done: Addressing Climate Change will Take Bold Reforms

The headquarters of the World Bank, Washington, DC, USA.

Why should anyone care about yet another meeting of international bankers, governments, and those who work with them? Because what happens at this year’s Spring Meetings of International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in Washington, D.C. is a key moment in efforts to reverse climate change and invest in development.


Only if the banks and their funders – the major economies of the world – take bold steps to reform the global finance system.

Only if they take necessary action to make these institutions fit-for-purpose for the new crises facing our world.

Only if they make the critical decisions to free up the billions of dollars for these global challenges.

To understand this, we need to go back 80 years.

During the Second World War, American and British economic policymakers began planning for a postwar order that could avoid future global wars.

In July 1944, as fighting still raged in Normandy following the D-Day landings, U.S. and British officials welcomed representatives from 42 other countries to Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, to create a multilateral system meant to restart growth, reopen trade, and react to crises after the devastation of World War II.

The Bretton Woods agreement created the global financial institutions designed to industrialize and interconnect economies to avoid the divergence that had proved so costly before the Second World War.

Bretton Woods Conference, New Hampshire, United States. July 1944 Image: UN photo

To a significant degree, this construct worked. Wealthier countries pledged to support financial institutions to lift up the most vulnerable and build a more stable world for everyone. Poorer countries used that support to invest in development initiatives that promote inclusive growth and bolster their people.

The result was not just a recovery from World War II’s devastation in Europe and Asia, but also significant economic growth over many decades.

TOPSHOT - People gather in front of a road damaged by flood waters following heavy monsoon rains in Madian area in Pakistan's northern Swat Valley on August 27, 2022. - Thousands of people living near flood-swollen rivers in Pakistan's north were ordered to evacuate on August 27 as the death toll from devastating monsoon rains neared 1,000 with no end in sight. (Photo by Abdul MAJEED / AFP) (Photo by ABDUL MAJEED/AFP via Getty Images)

Yet the institutions which have done so much good in the past – and still represent hope to so many – are no longer able to meet their missions. In the last five years, several challenges – poverty exacerbated by the pandemic, spillover effects of the Ukraine war, and climate change – has rapidly outpaced their ability to respond.  Many developing countries are drowning in debt – with interest payments quadrupling over the last decade for the poorest countries, topping education spending in 19 countries, and exceeding health expenditures in 45 countries.

As a result, confidence in this 80-year-old pact between wealthier countries and the poorer ones has greatly eroded.

Yet, we know the world is capable of bold actions when countries and institutions come together.

Last year at COP28, over 190 countries came together and agreed to transition away from fossil fuels this decade, and committed to tripling renewable energy capacity and doubling energy efficiency by 2030.

To make this happen, developing countries will need significantly more finance – a tall order of nearly $4 trillion annually to fight climate change and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to a recent UN Conference on Trade and Development report.

The multilateral development banks (MDBs), the IMF, and donor countries have a pivotal role to play in both providing that finance and catalyzing the much larger flows of private sector investment required to make development, climate resilience, and the energy transition a reality.

The Rockefeller Foundation has played a vital role in developing and building broad support for reforming the Bretton Woods system.

The Foundation worked with Prime Minister Mia Mottley on her visionary Bridgetown Initiative (a bold agenda to reform the MDB system, reduce debt burdens, and finance climate resilience), with President Macron of France on his Paris Pact for People and Planet, and with President Ruto of Kenya on the first African Climate Summit.

In response, the World Bank has articulated a strategy to get to a bigger, better Bank. Other MDBs are moving, with the Asian Development Bank unlocking $100 billion of additional lending through implementation of a new capital adequacy framework (CAF), and the African Development Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank setting out innovative proposals for Special Drawing Rights rechanneling.

COP28 Director-General Ambassador Majid Al Suwaidi, left, and Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley at a news conference at the COP28 summit on December 4, 2023, in Dubai. © Kamran Jebreili, AP

At COP28, we saw new initiatives emerge to mobilize and scale private capital, particularly around energy transition, including the UAE’s new $30 billion climate investment fund and the partnership on project preparation between the Investor Leadership Network and the U.S. Government.

However, with needs so great, it is clear we need to go further, faster. We must meet these challenges with urgency and ambition, as our dashboard (released today) reaffirms.

Cognizant of this, the 2024 G20 President (and the COP30 President), Brazil, has stepped up with a detailed agenda to reform the Bretton Woods system to produce more and higher quality capital for emerging markets and developing countries. Not decades in the future, but now.

Alongside many others, The Rockefeller Foundation has partnered with the Brazilian government to advance this agenda, whether through CAF implementation, debt-for-health-swaps, a holistic MDB operational review, and improved debt sustainability.

But this work won’t get done without the major economic powers of the world taking bold steps. And much of this often overlooked work must get done in Washington at the Spring Meetings.

That’s why these Spring Meetings this April matter. They will determine whether we meet the challenges facing our world or not.