China and Debt-for-Climate Swaps - with Rebecca Ray and Blake Alexanders Simmons


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Today we will be talking about debt swaps and China’s role in the global financial landscape, with Rebecca Ray and Blake Alexander Simmons of BU.

Although China has only recently become a major creditor, it has already built a strong record of bilateral debt relief and has even begun to advocate for linking actions to promote biodiversity and fighting climate change with international finance and debt relief.


Rebecca Ray is a Senior Academic Researcher at the Global Development Policy Center, at Boston University. She holds a PhD in Economics from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and an MA in International Development from the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University. Since 2013, she has focused on the nexus of international development finance, particularly China’s role in reshaping the global financial landscape, and sustainable development, particularly in Latin America. She produces the annual China-Latin America Economic Bulletin series and the China’s Overseas Development Finance database. She was lead editor for the books China and Sustainable Development in Latin America: the Social and Environmental Dimension and Development Banks and Sustainability in the Andean Amazon.

Blake Alexander Simmons is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Global Development Policy Center. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Queensland (Australia) and his M.S. from the University of Antwerp (Belgium). His research focuses on how environmental, political, and psychosocial factors influence conservation decisions in social-ecological systems, and how we can change behaviors to achieve positive outcomes for people and nature. At the GDPC, Blake is investigating the impacts of China’s Belt and Road Initiative on biodiversity and indigenous peoples.


Blake Alexander Simmons, Rebecca Ray, Yang H, Kevin P. Gallagher, "China can help solve the debt and environmental crises," Science (80), 21 January 2021, at, or

Time stamps for our discussion:

2:33 – How could China use debt for nature swaps and what’s the model?

2:50 – China is world’s largest low-income bilateral creditor. Countries are struggling to repay given Covid.

4:00 – Relieving a portion of debt in exchange for climate protection. Science paper lists which are best countries for this solution.

4:45 – Three economic trends: capital flight, currency volatility, and drop in trade. All challenge debt repayment and capital investment. If countries can’t make repayments anyway, shared goals are a way to renegotiate commitments without default.

6:00 – China has been at the forefront of debt relief for poorest countries.

6:30 – How does this affect China’s position as a creditor?

7:00 – China’s debt portfolio highly concentrated in a few countries. China has an interest in restructuring with these countries because of the long-term diplomatic and economic relationships—Venezuela as an example.

8:15 – What’s the difference of a debt-for-nature and debt-for-climate swap?

10:00 – History and examples of debt-for-nature swaps, going back to 1980s and 1990s. WWF pioneered, Ecuador was an early case. Third parties like WWF or the Nature Conservancy would pay for a portion of outstanding debts in exchange for conservation policies.

11:30 – Example of bilateral debt-for-nature swaps. Early cases of debt-for-climate.

12:50 – Example of the Seychelles and the marine protected areas.

14:00 – Nature-performance-linked-bonds. Examples of Ecuador and Argentina proposals.

17:30 – How does enforcement work? Are there standards?

19:00 – Inclusion of local communities in enforcement versus top-down goal-setting and monitoring.

23:00 – Announcements that could come from CBD COP. Discussions with CCICED.

25:30 – Expectations about green finance for nature.

28:00 – Why China still financing coal projects and whether that contradicts the idea of debt-for-climate swaps.

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