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ADB's Asia Clean Energy Forum 2023: Techno-Fixes Distract from Real Solutions

Manila, 13 June - A coalition of civil society organizations gathered today in front of the headquarters of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) where the 18th Asia Clean Energy Forum (ACEF) is being held from June 13th to 16th. They denounced the ADB’s consistent promotion of corporate-led energy transition and called on the multilateral development bank to commit to an urgent phase out of support for fossil fuels as well as to end support for unsustainable carbon and resource-intensive energy projects.

Atty. Aaron Pedrosa from Sanlakas noted, “Year in and year out, the ACEF has been a platform for discussion for anything but clean energy.” He continued, “Now, in the pipeline are energy projects that would produce dirty, harmful, and costly power. This means ADB intends to do business at the expense of the life, health, livelihood, and environment of host communities in shameless disregard of recent climate science. As a country battered by the impacts of a worsening climate crisis, there simply is no room for fossil expansion and false solutions. ADB must stop pursuing investments that would push us further to the brink of catastrophic climate change.

Hassan Mehedi from CLEAN (Coastal Livelihood and Environmental Action Network) Bangladesh affirmed, "Although the ADB promotes corporate conglomerates as partners in the energy transition, experience shows that these corporations perpetuate social and environmental injustices in the region, despite cloaking their operations in shades of green."

“Through much celebration of renewable energy in this year's ACEF, the ADB itself is acknowledging that a transition to clean and affordable energy from renewables is the desirable way forward with respect to development interests of Asian nations. But by still promoting fossil gas, false energy solutions, and other unproven technologies, ADB is supporting governments and energy players to keep veering away from a people-centered renewable energy transition and 1.5°C alignment. By failing to abandon gas, ADB consigns us to more years of polluting, costly power and in no way progresses in breaking away from its dirty energy legacy,” said Atty. Avril De Torres of the Center for Energy, Ecology and Development.

Chuck Baclagon of Asia explained further, saying that, “The proposed solutions at this year's ACEF reflect a misguided optimistic thinking that assumes the best outcome to come out of silver-bullet tech fixes. To truly decarbonize, we need to eliminate fossil fuels entirely. This not only reduces emissions but also enables greater access to energy by utilizing decentralized renewable sources like wind and solar power. The objective is to transform the financial system to prioritize clean, reliable, and affordable energy systems, ultimately achieving a fossil-free future that benefits both the people and our planet.

Rovik Obanil of the Freedom from Debt Coalition added, “ACEF 2023's continued fixation with false solutions undercuts our collective efforts to achieve real progress towards a just energy transition. We must oppose these dangerous detours and continue to fight to keep the world moving towards real solutions. We must not allow harmful distractions such as the ACEF to continue to provide a platform for greenwashing and the sidelining of legitimate peoples’ demands."

The civil society groups elaborated on how ADB’s energy sector pipeline reflects a similar agenda, including a recently approved coal-to-gas switching project in Kazakhstan as well as proposed partnerships with the Indian Oil Corporation for carbon capture and storage (CCUS) piloting at oil refinery sites and for expanding uses of green hydrogen for oil refining and blending with fossil gas with India’s Ministry of Petroleum and Gas. The CSOs pointed out that building CCUS infrastructure alongside existing fossil fuel facilities does nothing to actually accelerate the phase-out of dependency on coal, oil, and gas. In addition, they asserted that experience shows that hydrogen production, even when categorized as 'green,' requires excessive amounts of water, exacerbating water stress and burdening local communities that rely on limited water resources for survival.

Mark Moreno Pascual from Recourse highlighted this flawed concept of ‘clean energy’, saying, “True to its form, the ADB’s concept of ‘clean energy’ involves false solutions meant to incentivize profitable exit routes for fossil fuel corporations. More worryingly, what the ADB considers ‘clean’ includes gas and large hydro projects which have caused irreparable harm to communities and the environment while reinforcing the same extractivist model of growth.”

Yobel Novian Putra from Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) Asia Pacific expressed concerns about ADB’s continued support for Waste-to-Energy (WtE) incinerators, stating, “ADB must stop all support for Waste-to-Energy (WtE) incinerators and retire all existing incinerators that it has supported over the years. This includes projects in Vietnam (Binh Duong and Can Tho), the Philippines (Cebu), Maldives (Greater Malé), Indonesia (Solo and South Tangerang), and Thailand (Songkhla).

He added, “WtE incinerators are heavily reliant on burning plastic, which is 99% derived from fossil fuels. Additionally, both the production and incineration of plastic require fossil fuels, such as fossil gas, oil, or coal. By supporting WtE incinerators, ADB perpetuates the reliance on the fossil fuel industry, including the petrochemical industry. Burning plastic locks us into highly carbon-intensive investment for at least the next two or more decades. It also is toxic for communities and destroys the livelihoods of waste pickers and waste workers. "

The civil society groups also noted that though the ADB has announced a plan for scaling-up financing for climate adaptation and mitigation through the “Innovative Finance Facility for Climate in Asia and the Pacific”, the support is primarily in the form of loans, meaning it risks exacerbation of already onerous illegitimate debt burdens shouldered by ADB’s borrowing member countries.

“What the people of Asia need is a rapid, direct, equitable, and just transition to 100% renewable energy systems. And the delivery of non-debt creating climate finance to make this happen. Carbon capture usage and storage and hydrogen schemes distract from real solutions to the climate crisis. Loan financing of these schemes also exacerbates debt burdens,” said Lidy Nacpil of the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD). Nacpil added, “Building CCUS infrastructure alongside existing fossil fuel facilities runs counter to a swift phase-out of dependency on coal, oil, and gas. Efforts to blend a small amount of hydrogen into the gas grid or in power plants also don’t serve to reduce emissions. This will instead lock the region to fossil fuel energy for decades to come”.

Ian Rivera of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice, similarly asserted that “ADB must break away from its corporate business model. This strategy has failed to deliver genuine and transformative changes when speaking of development and equity, energy poverty and transition and the readiness of the region to confront the impacts of climate crisis. This is the model that first and foremost has brought about – and exacerbated – the multiple crises all Asian countries are now experiencing.”

“ADB is an Asian shame. What they are pursuing only exacerbates the climate crisis, promoting business and investments that contradict many Asian countries' commitment to the Paris agreement,” Rivera added.

The civil society groups also explained that there remains a lack of clarity on terms and directions for how the Bank will ensure ‘clean’ investments in the energy sector will not undermine global climate ambition to limit heating thresholds to 1.5C given the lack of any clear Paris Alignment Guidance, Climate Change Action Plan or disclosed update to guidance notes related to fossil gas, waste to energy or large hydropower disclosed to date.

“Workers' rights and the fight for a sustainable future are inseparable. ADB's lack of transparency and consultation regarding clean investments in the energy sector undermines our collective labor and climate ambitions,” said Dr. Rene Ofreneo from Freedom from Debt Coalition. “We demand a just transition that prioritizes renewable energy, safeguards workers' livelihoods, and ensures meaningful input from civil society organizations. The time for fair and accountable decision-making is now, as we strive to limit global heating thresholds to 1.5°C," he added.

In relation to the ADB’s proposed piloting of the Energy Transition Mechanism (ETM) and support for the roll-out of Just Energy Transition Plans, the groups noted the absence of options for meaningful ways communities affected by coal power projects – including those financed by the ADB in the past – as well as civil society and independent workers’ organizations could engage with decisions, plans, and processes related to project selection, decommissioning, and remedial action. They also urged the ADB to develop specific protocols protecting against retaliation and reprisals for environmental and human rights defenders involved in giving input into the ETM and JETP.

Guneet Kaur of International Rivers stated, “We urge the ADB to develop a sector-wide framework for financing the energy transition that integrates human rights and requires the protection and participation of environmental defenders right from the start of the process. A human rights based framework is critical to the success of the JETP and ETM and a just transition. The continuing arrests and imprisonment of environmental defenders in Vietnam highlights the need for such a framework and a zero tolerance policy for retaliation and reprisals in order to achieve the collective goal of Climate Justice. “

CSO’s Key Demands

In light of these concerns, the civil society groups across Asia and the Pacific issued an open statement challenging the ADB to abandon its reliance on clean energy rhetoric, taking concrete steps to end its complicity in perpetuating social harm, ecological injustice, and the climate emergency by:

  • Ending its partnership with the oil, gas and other extractivist interests, including those promoting the use of hydrogen, ammonia and carbon capture,

  • Explicitly setting an urgent time bound phase out for current investments in oil and gas infrastructure and companies – with a commitment for no new support,

  • Ending consideration of support for coal to gas switching, ‘repurposing’ coal power projects to enable co-firing (including biomass, ammonia, refuse derived fuel or other waste products), waste-to-energy incineration and greenfield hydropower dams,

  • Disclosing its draft Paris Alignment Methodology, Climate Change Action Plan along with all Guidance Notes associated with the 2021 Energy Policy and subjecting these documents to robust, inclusive country-level consultations, integrating public inputs before approval,

  • Ensuring all projects, technical assistance and other support does not undermine efforts to keep global heating thresholds below 1.5C

  • Ensuring that any Energy Transition Mechanism being piloted from the outset:

  • includes a process by which coal project affected communities, workers and their independent representative organizations along with civil society groups are involved through participatory, inclusive fora in any forthcoming decommissioning and remedial action plans,

  • incorporates clear principles of transparency related to negotiations with project operators,

  • provides clear assurances that legacy issues will be resolved with reparatory provisions for all harm and damage inflicted, and

  • strictly adheres to ADB’s own safeguard standards, enabling unhindered access to the Bank’s Accountability Mechanism.

Rayyan Hassan of the NGO Forum on ADB concluded, “The clock is ticking, and we can no longer tolerate empty promises and greenwashing. The ADB must break free from its fossil fuel addiction and false solution rhetoric, immediately shifting support to solar and wind. Fair and accountable decision-making is not a choice but necessary as we race against time to limit global heating thresholds to 1.5°C. The world is watching, and the Bank must end its complicity in perpetuating social harm, ecological injustice, and the climate emergency.

*** Organizations that joined the activity in front of the ADB HQ are NGO Forum on ADB, Asian Peoples' Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD), Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) Freedom from Debt Coalition,, Recourse, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) - Asia Pacific, Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ), Sanlakas, Oriang, and K4K.


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