IMF Managing Director’s public commitment to contributing to fight against climate change institutionalised, but Fund’s own major shareholders and the world’s biggest emitters decline automatic obligation to submit their own economies to scrutiny.
The IMF’s periodic review of its work annually monitoring all member-countries economic conditions has acknowledged for the first time that climate change related policies are ‘macro-critical’. The Comprehensive Surveillance Review (CSR), released today, is a welcome recognition of the inter-connected nature of economic policy and confronting the climate crisis.
How the Fund will operationalise this recognition is unclear. The CSR accepts that countries’ adaptation strategies, as well as the risks they face to economic and financial systems from the global economy shifting dramatically beyond fossil fuels, are part of its own mandated role in ensuring economic and financial stability.
However, the risk flows both ways, and the background analysis conducted by the IMF does not consider how the IMF’s own established policy toolkit inhibits countries abilities to move beyond fossil fuel energy dependence, or related industries. The release earlier this week of the IEA’s ‘Net zero by 2050’ report showed that not only coal but also gas represent an economic dead-end that will impact every single nation as these unsustainable sources of energy are retired more quickly than previously planned.
Given the severity of the pandemic-driven economic crisis pushing many low- and middle- income countries into debt distress, this review is a missed opportunity to, as IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva has advocated, “build forward better”. The Fund has committed to address the global policy challenge of mitigation in the case of the 20 largest emitters at least every three years but it is not mandatory. In contrast, following the Global Financial Crisis, ‘systemically important’ economies that had exported financial instability to the world were obliged to undertake analyses of the risk their economies and financial systems posed to the global economy.
Sargon Nissan, IMF project manager at Recourse, noted that: “The CSR decision reveals the obstacles imposed by the Fund’s own governance and board, which reflects the priorities of the world’s biggest economies, its major shareholders. How will the Fund be able to have challenging conversations with US, EU or China to same extent as Argentina, Iran, Indonesia on unsustainable policies that condemn other states to climate risks? The historic unwillingness to confront the Fund’s own most powerful stakeholders for the damage their policies do to others has to dramatically shift to make this new stance go beyond empty rhetoric.” He further adds: “2020 research conducted by Recourse showed how ongoing IMF advice still hinders countries from disentangling their economies from long-established reliance on fossil fuel related industries and embarking on a genuinely green, stable and sustainable recovery”.
Despite significant progress setting out how the Fund will support countries to adapt to climate change, including transition risks from mitigation efforts, there is little consideration of how the burden of transition falls within countries. The IMF has declined the opportunity to identify how all macro-critical issues, including inequality and gender equity, intersect with each other and its core macroeconomic approach. A just transition has to be developed that engages all sectors of society and protects those most vulnerable to the costs of the necessary reforms if Managing Director Georgieva’s ambitions can be met.
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Sargon Nissan, IMF manager, Recourse,