Many developing countries are experiencing mounting external debt distress owing to the economic consequences of COVID-19. G20 Finance Ministers were swift to adopt the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) in 2020, suspending bilateral debt payments through July 2021 for 73 low-income countries. Globally, Chinese government–sponsored banks have emerged as the largest bilateral creditors. For the 46 participating DSSI countries thus far, payments due to China constitute 68% ($8.4 billion) of all official bilateral payments originally due by the end of 2020. G20 countries have now come to realize that they will need to go beyond debt suspension to include the cancellation of some portion of debt. Without substantial debt relief, developing countries will face pressure to exploit natural capital to pay short-term debt, placing conservation and climate change ambitions aside. It is therefore of paramount importance to align debt restructuring efforts with climate, biodiversity, and development goals. Although China has only recently become a major creditor, it has already built a strong record of bilateral debt relief and has begun to advocate for linking biodiversity, climate change, and international finance. Here, we conduct an exploratory analysis of opportunities for China to alleviate debt burdens in exchange for debtor nation commitments to climate change mitigation and/or adaptation and environmental protection through “debt-for-climate” and “debt-for-nature” swaps.
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