Things to watch in 2019: Debt and emerging debt crises (part 2)

Second in a two-part blog series 

At the start of the New Year, the number of countries at high risk of debt distress is growing at an alarming rate. With so many crises already ongoing, and more expected to emerge over the next 12 months, it’s no surprise that the topic is high on the agenda of international organisations. But perhaps it’s not as high up as it should be in order to head off a looming crisis…

Here are some of the key moments to look out for in the 2019 calendar:

In March, the UN Human Rights Council will convene for its 40th session. On the agenda: adopting Guiding Principles for human rights impact assessment of economic reform programmes. These principles should ensure that future ‘reform programmes’ – i.e. adjustment programmes that creditors such as the IMF or the Troika in Europe impose on crisis countries – cause a little bit less harm in future. They will be urgently needed. The draft text of the Principles is already online. 

On 12-14 April, the international finance community gathers in Washington DC for the Spring Meetings of the IMF and World Bank. The whole world is watching what the IMF will do to tackle the new wave of crises, and who will take over the World Bank presidency after the sudden departure of Kim Yong to the private sector. The spectacular struggle against a Trump appointee might overshadow the more technical items on the international finance institutions’ workplan this year. According to the IMF workplan, this includes on the IMF side a review of the debt limits policy, the IMF conditionality review and a review of the debt sustainability framework for market access countries. 

In the run up to the Spring Meetings, high-profile academics will gather at Georgetown University for DebtCon3 on 11-12 April – one of the most important gatherings of progressive debt researchers this year. 
The following week, from 15-18 April, the development finance community moves to New York for the Fourth United Nations Financing for Development Forum. The forum will assess progress on the implementation of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) and earlier agreements on financing for development (FfD). The most important agenda item on this year’s FfD Forum might be to discuss when to hold the next FfD World Conference in order to negotiate a more effective follow up to the AAAA, in the light of meagre progress so far. 
On 23-25 May, most of Europe will go to the ballot to elect a new European Parliament. We are also saying good-bye to ‘Team Juncker’, as the renewal of the Parliament will be followed by new appointments at the European Commission. Election forecasts have not been very reliable in the EU recently, so anything is possible. Not surprisingly, the run-up to the elections is a major campaigning opportunity for Europe’s civil society organisations. 

Coming up in June, the Eurodad International Conference promises to be one of the highlights of the year! The conference will take place in Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana. More details will be revealed soon, so stay tuned… 
On 28-29 June, the world’s leaders will convene in Osaka (Japan) for the G20 Summit. While these summits have been more of a freakshow recently, the Japanese presidency did try to design a serious agenda, which includes inherently contradictory topics such as promoting private infrastructure financing on the one hand and preserving public debt sustainability on the other. Good luck with that! 

The UN’s High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development will convene an SDG Summit this year to look at Sustainable Development Goals. The summit takes place alongside the 2019 Climate Summit and the High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development. Together, these three major events are supposed to ‘accelerate progress towards sustainable development’, according to the UN. 
The smaller core group of the ‘Western world’ retreats to the French Riviera this year for the G7 Summit in Biarritz on 25-27 August. The website of the French presidency cites that ‘fighting inequality’ will be a key theme on this year’s G7 Agenda. In any case, the encounter of the G7 summit with the ‘yellow vest’ protests promises to be interesting. 

From 18-20 October, finance ministers will convene again for the IMF and World Bank Annual Meetings. Check out Eurodad’s advocacy toolkits on the IMF and World Bank to find out how to make the most of the opportunities presented by the Spring and Annual Meetings

Last but not least, the international community will gather for the 25th Climate Summit (COP) on 11-22 November. The venue has been moved to Chile, as Brazil’s new right-wing government has retracted their offer to host the Summit – and their contributions will likely be limited too. 

In light of the emerging debt crises, finding ambitious multilateral solutions for global challenges is more important than ever. Global surveillance reports paint a bleak picture: the World Bank detects that “storm clouds are brewing for the global economy” in their January 2019 Global Economic Prospects Report. The brand new Global Risks Report of the World Economic Forum – subtitled “out of control” - joins in and points at a wide range of challenges from financing crisis, to climate change and geopolitical challenges (while failing to reflect on the complicity of our global economic elites). There are abundant opportunities to tackle these challenges, what is needed is enlightened leadership and sufficient citizen pressure to create it. 

Read the first part of this blog series about emerging debt crises and what to watch in 2019....