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ADB’s Asia Clean Energy Forum 2023: Techno-Fixes Distract From Real Solutions

June 13, 2023

As civil society organizations that have observed – and in some cases engaged – in the Asian Development Bank’s annual Asia Clean Energy Forum (ACEF) over the years, we have taken note of ADB’s consistent framing of national, multinational and transnational corporations as the leaders in the field of energy transition, prioritization of large-scale infrastructure and promotion of speculative technologies that are ecologically, socially and economically untenable. We refuse to turn a blind eye to the reality that while the corporate actors provided with a platform at ACEF have been – and continue to be – implicated in exacerbating the climate crisis as well as social, economic and environmental injustice in the region (including Adani, Engie, Summit Corporation and Tata), ADB’s own role in advancing resource intensive mega-projects also has real social and environmental damages associated (including large hydropower, solar and wind parks and drilling for geothermal resources in the midst of thriving rural communities).

As environmental, labor, gender, climate, community, Indigenous Peoples’, and human rights defenders, we are well aware that just, equitable, rights-based and swift energy transitions will not come from simply replacing old technologies with new ones. Nor do we expect just energy transitions to be delivered by conglomerate corporate actors with track records in developing energy projects where systemic human rights and environmental violations are reported, or by the ADB – having witnessed firsthand the social and environmental impacts of ADB supported coal, gas, hydropower, waste-to-energy, geothermal drilling and large-scale wind projects.

As stated on the ACEF 2023 website, the gathering this year is intended to be “a forum for clean energy practitioners to come together and share insights into how we take action using clean energy solutions….” with a key objective being “[i]ncreased private sector participation and leadership in the delivery of clean energy innovation”. References to climate vulnerable and marginalized peoples across the region are noticeable by their absence, making it clear that it is corporate interests and purposes that these ‘clean energy solutions’ are intended to serve. We object to such positioning of corporations as key proponents for renewable energy options as we have seen consistently how private sector interests trump those of workers, affected communities and the public’s right to affordable, reliable, non-polluting energy sources. It is in this context that we fail to see ADB’s ACEF as a meaningful space for critically examining the practical renewable energy solutions required for a swift and just energy transition in the region.

Urgent Commitment to Phase Out Fossil Gas Dependence Required

Until and unless ADB institutionally commits to phasing out support for fossil gas and to excluding resource-intensive projects that have no place in the category of ‘clean energy solutions’, including greenfield hydropower dams, waste-to-energy incinerators coal-to-gas switching projects as well as hydrogen and carbon capture and storage schemes that serve the interests of the oil and gas industry, its legitimacy as a convenor of a ‘clean energy’ forum remains highly questionable. In fact, ACEF 2023 features sessions highlighting the piloting of carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS), bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) as well as hydrogen, shifting the focus to technical distractions primarily promoted by the oil, gas, mining and agribusiness industries. Wasting time and resources betting on non-viable, speculative as well as unsustainable technologies and schemes – including scaling-up dependence on hydrogen, BECCS, CCUS and carbon markets – diverts much needed attention and resources needed for real, just and immediate emissions reductions – necessary if we are to avert overshooting the 1.5C target and catastrophic thresholds for global climate heating. Meanwhile, an ACEF session focusing on the situation of the Pacific Islands defines the transition to renewable energy as a ‘hard choice’, despite the fact that already several of the Pacific Island states are championing the need for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. From our perspective, a planned and deliberate shift to renewable energy, ending the continued extraction of fossil fuels, is not only critical, it is the only choice we have if we are still to find a pathway forward within planetary boundaries.

Alarmingly, among the ACEF discussions on hydrogen, is a session co-sponsored by, a lobby group spearheaded by corporate interests including India’s Adani, Korea’s Hyundai Motor Group, Australia’s Fortescue Metals, Germany’s Thyssenkrupp, and the Korea Zinc Company. Even if the source of hydrogen is categorized as ‘green’ (i.e. from large-scale solar, wind or hydropower), its production requires onerous amounts of water, which risks exacerbating water stress and over usage, placing a burden on local people who rely on ground and surface water for daily survival. This year’s ACEF also includes promoting BECCS as an “energy innovation”, which is highly concerning given the reality of significant concerns related to land speculation, land grabbing, encroachment into Indigenous Peoples’ ancestral lands, unsustainable use of water and carbon emissions (including from land use change and burning biomass); even the most recent IPCC Assessment Reports from Working Groups II and III note potential impacts on biodiversity, food security and land rights. Examples of carbon capture and storage also feature during the discussion scheduled on ‘decarbonizing East Asia’, despite the fact that the build out of CCUS infrastructure alongside existing fossil fuel facilities does nothing to actually accelerate the phase out of dependency on coal, oil and gas or to support the rapid cuts in greenhouse gas emissions that are imperative at this time.

Revealingly, ADB’s energy sector pipeline increasingly reflects a similar agenda, for instance with a current proposed technical assistance grant for partnering with India’s Ministry of Petroleum and Gas to develop pilot projects and sector plans for expanding uses of hydrogen in such industries as oil refining, blending into compressed fossil gas and pipelined gas, fuel cells, heating and power generation. Similarly, the ADB has a proposed technical assistance grant to the Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. for carbon capture, utilization and storage piloting, including for application in refineries in Northeast India, and has been supporting the development of CCUS demonstration projects in China – including at a plant of Yanchang Petroleum Group as well as in the coal-fired power subsector and coal-chemical industry. Earlier this year, the ADB also approved a loan for a coal to fossil gas switching project in Kazakhstan, despite simultaneously suggesting it will support feasibility studies for the piloting of an Energy Transition Mechanism scheme in the country.

Market-Based and Export Oriented RE Options: Violating People’s Rights, Lacking in Accountability

We have seen how market-based and export-oriented strategies for energy development depend upon sacrificing the health and cohesion of communities while wreaking havoc on forests, rivers and coastal areas. Promoting these models going forward is neither acceptable nor sustainable. For instance, ADB’s active loans for Nam Ngiep Hydropower Project in Lao PDR, which was built on the assumption it would lead to 500,000 tons of avoided CO2 emissions in Thailand by exporting power, required over 3000 Indigenous Hmong and Khmu Peoples to involuntarily resettle into prefabricated homes away from the designated inundation zones. Despite the project now being operational, families resettled continue to raise unresolved grievances in relation to the inadequacy of the livelihood support and replacement infrastructure provided by the Nam Ngiep 1 Power Company. Meanwhile, the biodiversity offset plan, which was proposed to make up for the destruction of critical habitats and forest areas through a ‘no net loss’ framework has continued to be beset by problems. Similarly, although the ADB’s recently approved support for the export-oriented Monsoon Wind Power Project in Lao PDR is featured for example in one of the ACEF sessions, its development requires land acquisition from 378 households across 22 villages and the loss of communally used lands relied upon for non-timber forest product harvesting by over 2000 people across 25 villages, the majority of whom are Indigenous Peoples. Despite land acquisition being underway, according to local news reports, affected families are reportedly still waiting for compensation and remain uncertain where or how they will continue to graze livestock as well as retain their livelihoods due to the loss of agricultural and forest lands. Given the current context of constrained civic space, there are limited options for community members to vocally raise grievances, let alone bring such concerns forward to international financiers such as the ADB.

Nevertheless, the ADB – as reflected in this year’s ACEF sessions – continues to feature plans for building up hydropower and large-scale solar for cross border exports. In these cases, energy project sites in exporting countries often become sacrifice zones, and there remains a lack of corresponding consideration for how people will secure remedy when impacts may not be limited within the borders of one country, such as when dams are sited on transboundary rivers.

The sidelining of the very real social and environmental implications of large-scale energy infrastructure is particularly glaring this year, at a time when the ADB is championing itself as an institution prepared to bring about ‘just transition’ in the region. It’s also a notable exclusion at a time when communities are facing the brunt of rising energy costs, austerity plans being imposed by states burdened by indebtedness and the impacts of the climate crisis.

Climate Financing: A Matter of Justice

Though the ADB has announced a plan for scaling-up financing for climate adaptation and mitigation, the support is primarily in the form of loans, meaning nothing more than an exacerbation of indebtedness. In the context of ACEF 2023, we note that there is absolutely no updated framework released by the ADB publicly that provides clear defining terms and directions for the Bank’s ‘clean’ investments in the energy sector, despite repeated calls from civil society for versions of the guidance notes being developed on gas, hydropower, waste to energy and Paris Alignment (associated with the 2021 Energy Policy) and a draft Climate Change Action Plan to be disclosed. We therefore reiterate that these documents should not only be made publicly available on the ADB’s website, but before finalization should be open to a robust series of inclusive, participatory public consultations across the region with a clear commitment to meaningfully incorporate feedback, particularly from communities already affected by the ADB’s current energy portfolio.

Similarly, in regards to the ADB’s Energy Transition Mechanism (ETM), despite the first pilot project being proposed in Indonesia, and feasibility studies being undertaken in several countries in the region, there is an 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 any remedial action being taken. If the participation of communities in shaping plans that will affect their livelihoods, futures and their possibilities for seeking reparatory justice is sidelined, the transition being pursued risks merely exacerbating injustice and inequality. This would also require ADB to develop specific guidance for protecting against – and responding to – retaliation and reprisals directed at community members, workers as well as other human rights and environmental defenders giving input into the ADB’s ETM (and associated just energy transition partnerships), and for ensuring people can freely and safely engage with – as well as monitor – implementation processes.

Issuing a Collective Challenge

Going forward, we challenge the ADB to stop hiding behind the rhetoric of clean energy, just transition and ‘climate friendly’ solutions, taking genuine steps to end its role in perpetuating social harm, ecological injustice and the climate emergency by:

  • Ending its partnership with the oil, gas and other extractivist industries, 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 companies and infrastructure 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, and

  • 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.

Endorsed by: Asia | Regional (Asia)

350 Pilipinas | Philippines

3S Rivers Protection Network | Cambodia

Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD)| Regional (Asia Pacific)

Bangladesh Working Group on External Debt (BWGED) | Bangladesh

Building and Wood Workers International Asia Pacific | Philippines

Center for Environmental Justice | Sri Lanka

Center for Energy, Ecology and Development| Philippines

CLEAN (Coastal Livelihood and Environmental Action Network) | Bangladesh

Community Resource Centre | Thailand

DamSense | USA

debtWATCH Indonesia | Indonesia

EarthRights International | United States

Environics Trust | India

Environmental public society | Armenia

Freedom from Debt Coalition | Philippines

Friends of the Earth Japan | Japan

Gender Action | Global

Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) – Asia Pacific | Regional (Asia Pacific)

Growthwatch | India

Indigenous Women Legal Awareness Group (INWOLAG) | Nepal

Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF) | India

Indus Consortium | Pakistan

International Accountability Project | Global

Initiative for Right View | Bangladesh

Japan Center for a Sustainable Environment and Society (JACSES)| Japan

Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center - FoE Philippines | Philippines

Mekong Watch | Japan

Mines, Minerals & People | India

Nash Vek Public Foundation | Kyrgyzstan

NGO "Youth Group on Protection of Environment" | Tajikistan

NGO Forum on ADB | Regional/Asia Pacific

Oil Workers' Rights Protection Organization Public Union | Azerbaijan

OT Watch | Mongolia

Pakaid | Pakistan

Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum | Pakistan

Peace Point Development Foundation (PPDF) | Nigeria

People's Coalition for The Rights to Water (KRuHA) | Indonesia

Philippine Movement for Climate Justice | Philippines

Recourse | Netherlands

Rivers without Boundaries Coalition | Mongolia

Urgewald | Germany

Witness Radio - Uganda | Uganda


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