Manila – The 55th Asian Development Bank (ADB) Annual Meeting kicks off this week in a hybrid format with the theme 'From Pandemic to Recovery: Ideas for Change in Asia and the Pacific.’ Despite the festive mood that the Bank is projecting, this was criticized by civil society organizations (CSOs) and project-affected communities, especially after super typhoon Karding (international name Noru) blasted the Philippines' main Luzon island, causing damage and losses of P141.38 million to the agricultural sector.
“Super typhoons and the pandemic have taught us that neglecting critical issues such as public health, energy access, and village-to-hospital infrastructure can lead to a massive human and capital cost; the ADB cannot pursue a pathway that remains bound to private profit in the name of development,” says Rayyan Hassan, executive director of NGO Forum on ADB, an Asian-led network of over 250 CSOs worldwide. Hassan explained that the public interest and the public need have to be placed above all interests, especially when using Multilateral Development Bank (public) finance. “We remain vigilant on whether ADBs next phase of lending is pro-people and pro-environment, and let the Bank remain open to hearing critical views from the ground when it derails from that agenda,” he added
Recently, Pakistan has also experienced one of the worst environmental disasters in the world; one-third of the country is underwater, proving that the climate crisis is a race that we cannot win. Hussain Jarwar from Indus Consortium stated that the current monster monsoon rainfall had affected more than 40 million people, causing damage to two million houses and one million livestock, damaging thirteen thousand road infrastructure, and washing away three hundred fifty bridges in the country. "Pakistan accounts for 0.7% of GHG emissions but is ranked the 8th most vulnerable country to climate change globally. The MDBs should support Pakistan in the rehabilitation of debt swaps for nature. However, in that crucial situation, ADB has released a tranche for unit 5 of Jamshoro Power Company Limited (JPCL)' comprising a 600 MW Super-critical coal-fired power plant."
Jarwar added that "Indus Consortium demands from ADB, an immediate halt in disbursement activities related to any fossil fuel investments in Pakistan including JPCL, and reorient all the future investment portfolios towards the deployment of solar and wind energy projects for ensuring just energy transition and sustainable economic growth. Under ETM facilitation, ADB must first phase out its funded projects to set a model."
The network is also raising its collective concerns about the debt crisis and political situation in Sri Lanka. According to Hemantha Withanage, from the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ), an organization based in Colombo, "Sri Lanka is suffering from a serious debt crisis, energy crisis, and food crisis as a result of the failed neoliberal policies and corrupt system of capitalism implanted in the country. Many infrastructure projects and burrowings became sources of corruption in the past two decades".
Withanage also added that ADB should take responsibility for these systemic problems as a policy. "We believe ADB should cancel some ineffective and unfair debts and encourage other multilateral and bilateral lenders to do the same; it is time to assist the humanitarian crisis and avoid pushing draconian laws such as PTA to suppress the people."
The ADB is also gearing towards the culmination of the safeguards consultation process with no indication if the new policy will be progressive, rights-based, and pro-community. Ritu Thapa from Indigenous Women's Legal Awareness Group (INWOLAG), a Nepal-based organization monitoring the ADB-funded Tanahu Hydropower Project, explained, "we believe that the ADB Safeguard policy is supposed to protect the rights of development-affected communities. Along with these expectations, the ADB must consult affected people, and information must be disclosed formally. The language must be accessible to them to understand better the project plans to avoid, minimize, or mitigate adverse environmental, social, cultural, and many more impacts, especially to indigenous and marginalized communities."
According to Annabel Perreras, Project Data Analyst of NGO Forum on ADB, "The current safeguards policy of the Bank meant to protect the people from harm, are being up for review. We continuously demand that the ADB develop strong safeguards now. There can be no genuine progressive safeguards policy while turning a blind eye to the situation of human rights defenders, laborers, and a private sector operating in secrecy."
The network is also raising concerns regarding the Energy Transition Mechanism (ETM) scheme that the ADB is piloting in practice. Avril De Torres from the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED), an organization based in the Philippines, stated that many questions remain unanswered about the ETM. "Ambiguities over how the mechanism will be implemented leave many of us with skepticism. They are also yet to release their guidance notes on fossil gas. As coal and other fossil fuel prices today bring record high electricity rates amid skyrocketing costs of living, ADB and its partners must prioritize a rapid phaseout of costly coal power that will neither pass on burdens of costs to consumers nor make way for other costly fuels like fossil gas to take coal's place" says De Torres.
Coal companies and financiers must shoulder their part in early closure expenses, including reparative and just transition costs. Any transition mechanism must also clearly contribute towards a 1.5°C-aligned shift to affordable energy from 100% renewables.
There is also the pervasive shrinking of civil society space and reprisals against human rights defenders in Myanmar, the Philippines, and Mongolia. As we move towards the post - COVID - 19 era, it is undeniable that the pandemic has deepened inequalities and exposed a fragile health system, weak governance, and poorly designed infrastructure systems. Sukhgerel Dugersuren from OT Watch Mongolia explains, "In the name of post-COVID-19 economic recovery, the Mongolian Minister of Justice declared on August 3, 2022, that anyone objecting to strategic infrastructure projects would be investigated for criminal acts stipulated in Criminal Code 19.4 and 19.6 as sabotage and unlawful collaboration with foreign entities and individuals. This statement was followed by opening criminal investigations and arrests of civil society and community activists. It also opened doors for businesses to file retaliatory charges against activists and community groups they consider stalling their projects, claiming payment of onerous amounts to make up for "lost opportunity costs" without substantiated evidence."
Dugersuren also added that criminal investigations started a few days before the visit of China's foreign minister, which resulted in agreements to increase coal exports to China with more support for port, road, and energy infrastructure. Investigations and arrests continue to date to assure investors gathered for the "Mongolia Mining 2022" week that energy and transport infrastructure projects will support their investments in mining. "It remains to be seen if the ADB will remain silent in the face of this context, simply continuing to provide loans and technical assistance to a government that makes reprisals an official tool for moving ahead with environmentally and socially harmful projects. The ADB must take clear measures to respond to the unacceptable risks this situation poses to project affected communities and their allies," according to Dugersuren.
"The ways that ADB's investments exacerbate debt and encourage reliance on resource-intensive, extractivist forms of energy are things we have personally witnessed and experienced," says Hasan Mehedi from CLEAN (Coastal Livelihood and Environmental Action Network) and the International Convenor of NGO Forum on ADB. "As we have repeatedly stated in recent years, a just, inclusive, and sustainable transition across Asia and the Pacific cannot and will not be realized if the Bank continues to finance false solutions such as WTE incinerators, large hydro, fossil gas, and carbon capture. The ADB must support an equitable, forward-looking green recovery; we urge the ADB to prioritize people, and the planet over profit!”