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ACEF 2024: Where Corporate Giants Peddle Technofixes to the Climate Crisis

From Mongolia to Georgia, this past year has been marked by ever-constrained spaces for civil society movements to organize, most particularly in response to questions surrounding resource, development, energy, climate and environmental justice as well as rising geopolitical tensions, militarization and securitization of border zones. This year has also been one of extreme heatwaves, unprecedented flooding and torrential downpours, with knock-on impacts to peoples’ social, economic and cultural well-being. In the midst of these realities, community alliances, local respected leaders, as well as climate, environmental, gender, labor rights and development justice advocates are increasingly coming together to question and oppose the build out of fossil gas infrastructure, the damming of the last free-flowing stretches of rivers, destructive drilling for geothermal heat from the bowels of the earth, the incineration of wastes or biomass, territories and ancestral lands signed away single-handedly by states to mining companies,  as well as techno-fixes, all of which delay rather than hasten a shift to decentralized and utility scale power systems dependent on the power of the wind and sun. 

In this context, it could be expected that a region wide “clean energy” gathering would convene to tackle these issues head on, pivoting attention towards holding actors accountable who bear responsibility for advancing destructive development projects in the name of climate resilience and a ‘green’ future. In contrast, this week, the 2024 Asia Clean Energy Forum (ACEF) convened at the headquarters of the Asian Development Bank (ADB)  champions multi and transnational corporate actors that have historically been — and are — responsible for bolstering dependency on technologies and energy systems which result in intensive greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions alongside irreversible environmental and social harms. Indeed, by design, the ACEF program promotes the vested interests of the private sector, despite the reality that technologies they are peddling pose an immediate threat towards a fast, full, fair, funded equitable transition away from fossil fuel dependent infrastructure systems. In response to this year’s ACEF agenda, collectively, we, the undersigned civil society organizations share the following open statement, which urges the ADB to consider 2024 as the final time it will convene a gathering which brands top-down corporate driven energy transitions as ‘clean’, green and forward-looking, while leaving out any serious consideration of the rights of the diverse peoples of the region and our planetary commons.

Championing Private Companies that Undermine a Full, Fast Fair Fossil Fuel Phase Out 

From the outset, with ACEF’s opening plenary intended to “set the tone”, we recognize the significance of the keynote speeches, one of which will be given by senior management of Japan’s Marubeni, a company considered by civil society groups as notorious for its tendency to promote fossil fuel dependent infrastructure, including keeping the coal industry alive through co-firing and the fossil gas sector profitable through support for hydrogen blending and LNG infrastructure. It has also not escaped our attention that a prominent role has been given to representatives from Keppel, in both the opening plenary as well as the “Energy Finance Day” session on 5th June. Yet, Keppel is a company that continues to boldly support the destructive build out of fossil gas powered plants in the region, locking populations across Asia into dependency on expensive, carbon intensive energy. The ADB’s call for “quick win” solutions to the energy and climate crisis in this opening session can only be understood as that which will bring further windfall profits to corporations, while continuing to negate the realities of the planetary boundaries and the implications for systematically marginalized peoples.

Abdicating Responsibilities to Uphold International Human Rights and Environmental Treaty Provisions

Once again, this year’s ACEF sessions sideline critical issues of environmental and social harms, losses and damages and corporate accountability. Glaringly, there appears to be a built in avoidance of the centrality of human and environmental rights especially when the ADB’s energy investments are being operationalized in authoritarian and restrictive regimes. Specifically, we see a continued negligence amongst the conference organizers (ADB, USAID and Korean Energy Agency) to incorporate considerations related to international environmental, labor and human rights conventions, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises, let alone the Maastricht Principles on the Human Rights of Future Generations. As responsible conference organizers, such gaping holes in the agenda speaks volumes. 

No more False Solutions: From CCUS and Fossil Fuel Mixes to Hydropower Dams and Geothermal Drilling

ACEF’s tacit promotion of companies still expanding fossil fuel dependent systems, concerningly manages to normalize plans to expand “carbon removal” technologies, such as carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS), despite the reality that even after decades of pilot trials and billions of dollars of financial support, CCUS has consistently failed to demonstrate any effective results. Let us be clear: CCUS is a dangerous distraction, keeping fossil fuel infrastructure intact rather than supporting the critical need for prompt decommissioning and a shift to energy systems that function fully on renewable power options. Meanwhile, emerging fuel mixes, such as green hydrogen, are being promoted as a marketing and business opportunity, where companies can jump on the bandwagon to manufacture new types of electrolyzer technologies — with no mention of where industrial zones will be sited, who will be impacted by the extraction of required resources, whether the conditions of new jobs in the manufacturing sector will be fair and dignified, or where new projects for generating green hydrogen will be located. We also note that several ACEF sessions promote the use of carbon markets, despite the range of accessible, updated evidence-based information about why carbon markets will not spur on a change in business as usual, but rather reinforce and potentially exacerbate conflicts over the use of land and coastal /riparian zones. 

Notably, the “Energy Finance Day” Panel on 5th June also features Standard Chartered. This UK-based multinational bank has been struck by a multitude of complaints due to its failure to comply with due diligence to existing regulations before financing four coal plants in the Philippines. As a result, Standard Chartered stands culpable for causing dispossession and loss of livelihoods for people in host and surrounding communities as well as complicit in threats and intimidation against those who raise critical questions. It is therefore shockingly insensitive on the part of the conference organizers to yield the space to Standard Chartered without any consideration for how allies of affected communities or community members themselves could bring forward to speak the truths of their experiences. 

We also reiterate our rejection of hydropower projects and associated facilities being cloaked in ‘green’, using the language of climate adaptation and mitigation. In this context, there is no serious attempt to consider comprehensive lifecycle emissions,  nor the sheer economic costs associated that typically exacerbate host country’s debt burdens, let alone the irreparable harms, damages and losses impacting people living upstream, downstream and those dispossessed by the dam reservoirs. Accordingly, we find it particularly problematic that ACEF features a session on hydropower where a senior executive of the international hydropower company, Andritz, is provided with a platform for promoting their engineering approaches —- devoid of any context of the human rights violations sparked by the development of projects for which construction is dependent on Andritz components. Most concerningly, despite ongoing grievances brought forward by dam affected communities in the region to the  Accountability Mechanisms of the ADB and other MDB,  in recent months, the Bank has added new hydropower dams, including the 90 Megawatt Dudh Koshi Hydropower Project, to its list of projects proposed to receive support via loans and technical assistance.

On Waste-to-Energy (WTE) incineration: although not explicitly featured in a stand alone session at ACEF, forms of WTE, such as using refuse derived waste (RDF) to fire or co-fire facilities remain integrated into ADB’s overarching approach to ‘decarbonization’, particularly in relation to methods for coal project ‘repurposing’. Not only are such technologies unsustainable, expensive, and encourage production of more waste — or even importation of waste materials — in order to fill take-or-pay contracts, they are also extremely toxic to human health, directly undermining provisions in national and international environmental standards which are in place to safeguard public health.

For the first time, a session within ACEF is set aside to promote the scaling up of geothermal projects in Indonesia and the Philippines. Civil society groups have consistently raised serious concerns about the siting of the geothermal drilling and the impacts of project development as well as proposed expansion of wells on rural and Indigenous Peoples’ communities Indonesia (including just a month ago, at the ADB’s own Annual Meeting). Yet, this session is set up as a space for the vested interests in the geothermal sector to promote their ventures as clean energy options. Clearly, ADB management and staff have failed to date to heed the information provided by community, gender and environmental justice advocates on why more geothermal projects — typically proposed for areas in the midst of protected /ancestral forest lands or peri-urban areas — are not an appropriate option for ‘clean energy’, instead bringing very real impacts of gas leakages, land subsidence, drainage of surrounding water sources and noise as well as air pollution among other consequences, rendering host sites as sacrifice zones. 

Loans and Energy Transition Schemes Still Keeping the Coal Sector Alive

We note that the ADB management have taken liberty to brand the Energy Transition Mechanism (ETM) as a scheme which has a ‘multi-dimensional approach’ to decarbonization at this year’s ACEF. To date, the only two coal units being piloted under the ETM are both set to drain public funds, as hundreds of millions of dollars will be doled out to coal operating entities as ‘compensation packages’  — not for decommissioning, but rather for ‘voluntarily’ refurbishing their facilities several years in the future to operate on other potentially high GHG emitting and resource intensive fuel sources. In the interim, these plants will continue to still generate profit for their shareholders through operating business as usual, while surrounding communities and workers will remain subject to the toxic air and effluent water discharged from these sites. These arrangements do not set us on a pathway aligned with commitments under the Paris Agreement, but rather create a situation whereby public funds are being used to prop up corporations that under the polluters’ pay principles, should rightfully be the ones paying out compensation and reparations from profits generated over the years. We therefore continue to denounce the idea of making this scheme ‘replicable’ or ‘scalable’ across the region, and are confident there are faster, fairer ways to phase out coal facilities at the scale needed to achieve a future where global heating does not far overshoot 1.5C. 

Notably, despite the thoroughly researched evidence shared with the management and staff during the Bank’s 2024 Annual Meeting that general financing loans to utility and power companies such as PLN continue to flow into building out coal facilities, there appears to be no attempt to address this issue in any way during the ACEF session dedicated to the ETM. We urge the ADB to take this information seriously and consider how to ensure such loopholes for financing of coal can be closed in the upcoming 2025 Energy Policy Review. 

Implications of Policy Based Loans in the Energy Sector

We note the “Spotlight Session on Policy Based Loans” with concern, most particularly given the stated workshop goal to discuss how “ADB’s interventions are directed and leveraged…in terms of unlocking newer opportunities for private capital to flow”. Firstly, given the reality that our governments are already saddled by high sovereign debts, we reject the onerous deepening burden borne by the public that such financing arrangements imply. Furthermore, we assert the need for policies that respond to the rights of populations to affordable, accessible, decentralized, non-fossil fuel energy, to pursue a pathway consistent with a 1.5C compliant future. We also assert that workplace health, safety and dignified earnings along with rights to a healthy, livable environment as non-negotiables. 

We find it particularly negligent that this year’s ACEF dedicates a full afternoon session in partnership with Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to promote the  “Asia Zero Emission Community (AZEC) and a similar session with the Korea Energy Agency on “Clean Energy”, both of which feature reliance on LNG, ammonia, hydrogen and CCUS. Following the pathways advanced by corporations featured in this session, including Mishubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha, will undoubtedly set us up for furthering intergenerational harms, damages and losses, stripping our communities of the resources collectively needed to respond to an ever-heating planet. 

Concerns with Critical Minerals Extraction

Finally, in relation to this year’s Deep Dive Session on Critical Minerals: For the first time at ACEF, ADB is spotlighting the critical mineral sector. However, rather than opening up the discussion to engage in the range of deep human and environmental rights violations that are typically associated with the extractive sector, including but not limited to the (i) extrajudicial killings and disappearances of community rights advocates, (ii) existential risks to ground and surface water sources, (iii) considerations of disposal of toxic tailings, (iv) risks related to loss of livelihoods and ancestral lands, and (v) carbon intensive process of drilling, extraction as well as processing, there is instead a rosy picture painted of countries in the region expanding mining operations to “position themselves as key players in the global value chains”. In this regard, we are deeply disturbed to see how the workshop description specifically promotes the Philippines, Indonesia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan as zones for focussing extraction, where it is assumed there is readily available “low-cost labor”. Yet, there is glaringly no mention of the (non-monetized costs) associated harms to the health of workers, surrounding communities and ecosystems, nor the costs required to deal with eventual disposal of mining wastes and land remediation. We have already seen the ADB begin to pilot advisory services in this sector and as social movements we are issuing a serious warning to ADB ~ Stay away from this deeply destructive industry which threatens to open up sacrifice zones on lands that our communities rely on for survival.

Looking Ahead

Over the past several years of convening ACEF, the ADB has faced deep criticism along with coordinated protest actions at its headquarters in Manila as civil society organizations, community groups and labour unions have mobilized to expose ACEF’’s agenda as one which promotes corporate profiteering in the name of a ‘green future’, where techno-fixes are showcased at sessions, and where meaningful debate, discussion and questioning is given no space. The notion that discussions on leveraging financing for an energy sector that is ‘technology agnostic’ is unacceptable in the midst of the climate crisis. Non-borrowing member countries of the Bank need to step up and stop pushing approaches which continue to exacerbate sovereign debt burdens across the region. They must also acknowledge responsibility as culpable actors in spurring on environmental and human rights harms that led to further marginalization of remote, rural and urban communities alike.

The techno-fixes being peddled once again at ACEF 2024 are dangerous distractions that divert much needed attention, support and financing from approaches which could advance fair, fast, full transitions away from resource and carbon intensive energy systems that are accountable and answerable to the public, not private shareholders. As we struggle to respond in the midst of unprecedented impacts of climate change, we hold the ADB, along with peer international financial institutions and corporate actors accountable in the historical as well as ongoing harms and devastation for which they are culpable. 

Looking ahead, we challenge the ADB to make this the last time it convenes a regional energy forum that promotes destructive techno-fixes in the name of energy transition, which taken together, are nothing but a fatal recipe towards deepening the compounded impacts of environmental, climate, social and economic crises. We await a response to these collective concerns, all of which will be highlighted in a range of upcoming actions planned by civil society, communities and allied trade union advocates this coming week and beyond. 

Endorsed by the following organizations:

NGO Forum on ADB Asia

350 Pilipinas

Aksi! for Gender, Social and Ecological Justice, Indonesia

Alyansa Tigil Mina, Philippines

Asia Indigenous Peoples Network on Extractive Industries and Energy (AIPNEE), Regional

Asian Peoples' Movement on Debt and Development, Regional

Bangladesh Working Group on External Debt (BWGED), Bangladesh

Centre for Environment and Participatory Research CEPR, Bangladesh

Centre for Research and Advocacy Manipur, India

Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED), Philippines

CLEAN (Coastal Livelihood and Environmental Action Network), Bangladesh

Coastal Livelihood and Environmental Action Network (CLEAN), Bangladesh

Community Empowerment and Social Justice Network (CEMSOJ), Nepal

Community Initiatives for Development in Pakistan (CIDP), Pakistan

Community Resource Centre, Thailand

Coorg Organisation for Rural Development, India

DamSense, Unites States

Dushtha Shasthya Kendra (DSK), Bangladesh

Eco-Coalition Armenia, Armenia

EquityBD, Bangladesh

Freedom from Debt Coalition, Phillippines

GAIA Asia Pacific, Asia Pacific

Growthwatch, India

Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF), India

Indigenous Perspectives, India

International Accountability Project, Global

ISDE Bangladesh, Bangladesh

Katribu Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas, Philippines

London Mining Network, United Kingdom

MiningWatch Canada, Canada

Nepal Kirat Kulung Bhasa Sanskriti Utthan Sangh, Nepal

Oil Workers' Rights Protection Organization Public Union, Azerbaijan,

Oyu Tolgoi Watch, Mongolia

Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, Pakistan

Participatory Research & Action Network- PRAAN, Bangladesh

Philippine Movement for Climate Justice, Philippines

Recourse, International

Rivers without Boundaries Coalition, Mongolia

Rivers without Boundaries Coalition, Mongolia

Solidaritas Perempuan, Indonesia

Umo Isua-Ikoh, Nigeria

Forum Network ACEF 2024 Statement
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