The Covid-19 pandemic coupled with the increasing is widening inequality and reversing decades of poverty alleviation. We are witnessing the catastrophic impacts of non-inclusive disaster response and market-oriented planning which undermines environmental, economic, and social well-being. The demand for stronger accountability and binding respect for international rights-based frameworks from public institutions in improving social and environmental governance while simultaneously achieving growth objectives should be at the heart of the development agenda.

 

The Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) safeguards policy remains critical at a time when international public financing is required across the region to support community resilience and inclusive, just transition. Since the adoption of the Safeguards Policy Statement (SPS) 2011, civil society organizations (CSOs) and trade unions have engaged the Bank in achieving the policy objectives of avoiding harm, mitigating or redressing risks from ADB’s development projects by supporting project-affected communities in seeking redress and compensation, providing context- specific expert views on environmental and social risks, and in forwarding analysis on policy and operational gaps in the implementation of the SPS.

 

As such, CSOs and trade unions around the world hold this review process with utmost importance and attention. While the Bank’s approach presents promising reforms, we are alarmed that the key directions stated in its approach papers could lead to the dilution of important safeguard commitments.

Collectively, we raise these points before the process leads to an SPS with tremendous substantial and procedural problems when the current demand is to reform toward international laws, standards and norms. In pursuit of the shared objective of reforming the safeguard system, we forward our key recommendations:

  1. Improve the safeguard system toward a review process strongly informed by the costly and grave adverse impacts from policy gaps, and poor or noncompliance of SPS implementation.

  2. Maintain the current risk categorization assessment for environment, indigenous peoples (IPs) and involuntary resettlement and create binding requirements for each category.

  3. Maintain front-loaded requirements or quality of entry reports such as EIA and SIAs prior to board project approval and the time-bound release of documents.

  4. Maintain the use of equivalency and acceptability baseline for the use of the country safeguards system (CSS).

  5. Strengthen the binding requirements for both sovereign and non-sovereign lending and avoid the IFC open-ended approach to compliance.

  6. Strengthened guidance for involuntary resettlement safeguard to include gender, economic and climate-induced displacements, and cultural issues.

  7. Meaningful inclusion of more and urgent safeguards issues supported by a coherent umbrella of safeguards systems and tools.

Specifically, the SPS must:

  1. State divestment in countries adopting high-carbon development pathways and sectors unless transparent, low-cost, low-carbon, pro-poor, and sustainable Nationally Determined Contribution plans are established in a transparent and participatory manner with at-risk populations to climate change.

  2. Require baselines on direct and indirect GHG emissions for all of its current approved projects and those for approval including energy, electronics, regional production centers, transportation, waste and landfill facilities, and agriculture as key GHG emitting sectors and its associated facilities; and set mandatory annual reporting for private and public sectors on GHG emissions. 

  3. Ensuring better protection of cultural heritage through recognition of the importance of both tangible and intangible cultural heritage for present and future generations. 

  4. Ensure biodiversity is protected. Full-scale environmental impact assessment (EIA) should also be required. Element IV of the EIA report should include assessing the cumulative impacts with other projects or plans adversely affecting the area: (iv) anticipated environmental impacts, cumulative impacts, and mitigation measures.

  5. Expansion of safeguards coverage to emergency assistance, recovery and disaster risk loans, technical assistance, and associated facilities.

  6. Extended period for filing a complaint from two years after project closure to five years.

  7. Due diligence on meaningful consultation and participation for all types of assistance.

  8. Application of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent(FPIC) for all communities affected by ADB projects and not only for indigenous peoples.

  9. Introducing protections for human rights defenders.

  10. Human rights due diligence.

Finally, it is imperative that meaningful consultation is ensured throughout the review process. With these concerns, we move these critical points as the spaces provided for the stakeholder engagement have been dismissive of the requirements of what meaningful consultations are in the SPS. The kind of stakeholder engagement we are currently witnessing is reinforcing the shrinking civic space which inhibits critical debates on necessary reforms. Development financing plays an important role yet we come to a shared understanding that weak accountability has long-term and devastating impacts that can have long-term impacts on economies, communities, sectors, biodiversity, and the climate. A robust, green, and just safeguards is not a cost but an investment for ADB’s development investments, for social equity and sustainable development in which underspending and poor governance pose huge risks for all stakeholders but most especially the poor and the environment.