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Climate-Smart Mining for a New Climate Economy (Project 57273-001) 

Mr. Muhammad Ehsan Khan, Regional Director, East Asia Dept.

Mr. Dustin S. Schinn, Project Officer, East Asia Dept.

Ms. Shannon Cowlin, Country Director,  Mongolia

Asian Development Bank (ADB)


Mr. Priyantha Wijayatunga, Senior Director, Energy Sector Office, ADB

Mr. David Morgado, Senior Specialist, Energy Sector Office, ADB

Mr. Bruce Dunn, Director, Office of Safeguards, ADB

Ms. Christine Engstrom, Senior Director, Finance Sector Office, ADB

RE: Climate-Smart Mining for a New Climate Economy (Project 57273-001) 

3 June 2024

Dear Mr. Muhammad Ehsan Khan, Mr. Dustin Schinn, and Ms. Shannon Cowlin,

As civil society groups from across Asia and beyond, we are writing to follow up with you in regards to a range of serious concerns about the Technical Assistance (TA) grant the ADB is providing to lay the groundwork for piloting “climate-smart mining” projects in Mongolia. According to the ADB’s project data sheet, this grant is intended to “provide proof of concept” and “an enabling environment” for the development of export-oriented industries connected to the extraction of “critical minerals and other metals”. Below, we are advancing several unanswered points of contention, not only in relation to this particular grant, but also the trend that it represents, as we understand that the ADB may consider showcasing this example and replicating it in other countries. 

Overall, we have deep concerns that such a TA grant — which is being labeled as a way of solely providing advisory services on “climate-smart mining” — has the potential to lead to significant rights violations in the long run. Notably, there is a severe lack of any inclusion in the language of the TA’s implementation arrangements to meaningfully account for externalized risks and costs borne by community members, laborers and the environment, including but not limited to:

  • rural community members’ and workers’ rights to health as well as to have a dignified, safe and sustainable means of livelihood;

  • the intergenerational implications of the loss of clean water sources that are no longer suitable for human consumption or for animal grazing; 

  • the loss of herders’ rights, most particularly their right to livelihood;

  • the loss of lands to which pastoralist and Indigenous Peoples have deep ancestral and spiritual ties, and 

  • onerous volumes of toxic mine waste which require additional land and infrastructure for safe, long term disposal and remediation.

As we have repeatedly raised in the past, there is no commitment to ensure the policy frameworks, legislative texts and mapping exercises facilitated by ADB consultants under this TA explicitly incorporate references to the provisions outlined in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights or OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises (as a minimum floor), nor to ensure priority is given to first obtaining free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) from populations whose lives will be uprooted to make way for mining sites, let alone ensure policies and legislation expressly commit to respecting community rights to withhold consent altogether. Furthermore, although civil society groups have engaged with the ADB on the importance of reflecting principles outlined in internationally agreed upon environmental conventions, along with the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, and the “Banks and Biodiversity No Go Areas” in both technical assistance and direct project financing, we note the absence of considerations to ensure that consultants hired are aware of these standards and prepared to meaningfully integrate them into the advisory services.  

In addition, despite the ADB being made consistently aware of the risks to land/environmental/Indigenous Peoples’ human rights defenders in the region (specifically in Mongolia, but also for instance, in the Philippines and Indonesia), there is no indication that ADB staff or consultants are cognizant of the need to explicitly integrate protocols to ensure financing through the TA grants are not directly or indirectly complicit with repression of communities rights defenders, Indigenous Peoples’, labor or other civil society rights advocates. The lack of recognition of this reality is particularly problematic in light of the well documented evidence that human rights defenders who oppose harmful mining operations — especially those working at the local/community level — in Mongolia but also the Philippines, Indonesia and beyond, regularly experience targeted intimidation and retaliation in response to their advocacy for the respect of their livelihoods and community rights.

According to your correspondence on 26th March 2024, you mentioned that the “ADB must carefully evaluate any potential involvement in mining operations,” and that this initial TA “will not be financing any actual operations or mining activities”. However, we would like to remind the ADB that this project does not exist in a theoretical vacuum. ADB’s technical assistance has the potential to exacerbate rights’ violations on the ground. We note that for example, in the TOR for the consultants to be hired appended to the TA, it suggests that tasks include providing “advisory services, capacity building, training, and support to the National Committee on Industrialization, and the Ministry of Mining and Heavy Industry to identify and develop opportunities for Mongolia to attract foreign direct investment for the mining and processing of rare earth minerals” and support for “the development of at least three business cases and one investment pipeline, focusing on long-term climate-smart mining and processing of minerals for a new climate economy in Mongolia”. Such activities – without also supporting capacity building on human rights due diligence, risk assessments, environmental and social impact assessments, and reprisals and remediation – will eventually lead to devastating impacts for communities and the environment. 

Environmental, Climate and Human Rights Implications of Technical Assistance

Even when the ADB is not involved directly in mining exploration and extraction, the program of work required to complete this TA is clearly intended to eventually kickstart such activities. As we have mentioned in earlier correspondence, it is dismaying that not once has there been any indication that the consultants are instructed to take into account lessons learned from the impacts and grievances surrounding the Oyu Tolgoi site, as a major mining project in Mongolia where MDB investments are implicated. Nor is there information about how the ADB will be accounting for areas already protected by – or proposed to be protected by – national or international biodiversity conventions and agreements (such as Ramsar sites) when they are situated in areas overlapping or near areas mapped out as rich in rare earth/critical minerals. There is also no indication that the consultants would have any mandate to meet with representatives of nomadic pastoralists, whose survival depends on areas that would be affected by the expansion of the mining industry. In fact, we note that in the project’s performance indicators, listening to and integrating viewpoints of community groups is altogether absent. Instead, stakeholders with whom consultants have specific instructions with which to engage are those from the National Committee on Industrialization, Ministry of Mining and Heavy Industry, Ministry of Energy and those who will attend an investment forum “focused on exploration and processing of minerals for renewable energy manufacturing.” However, the reality is that around the world, critical voices of civil society and affected communities are systematically ignored and shut out of such fora.

As land, environmental, human rights, climate, women and Indigenous Peoples’ rights defenders, we consider it deeply problematic to assume that consultants or ADB staff can be involved in supporting the promotion of mining investment fora, and then on the other hand be perceived by rights holders in Mongolia – who have been tirelessly working to expose the human and environmental rights violations connected with the mining industry–will be open to good faith engagement with the very people involved in violating their rights. Nevertheless, your correspondence suggests the ADB will “ensure that any potential concerns from civil society will be taken into account”. We await concrete details on how this will happen, since it appears that ADB views its role in such TA agreements as being merely advisory, without recognizing the long-term consequences of such siloed advice on the rights of communities. In light of the reality as explained above, we wish to highlight that simply engaging with civil society as a ‘tick-box style’ exercise is not only undeniably insufficient, it is also deeply disrespectful. Across Mongolia, as well as in other ADB member countries including Indonesia and the Philippines, communities where mining is proposed are asserting that they will not agree to selling the land to mining corporations. When ADB’s staff and consultants remain blind to this reality, instead mapping these areas as potential zones of extraction and providing corresponding advice to policy makers in government ministries, it is your institution that stands culpable for facilitating future land and resource conflicts.

Environmental, Climate and Human Rights Implications of Technical Assistance

We also wish to emphasize that even if the act of providing advisory services does not directly have a high carbon footprint, the logical next steps by corporations in partnership with governments involve drilling, extraction and processing of minerals–dispossessing entire communities and uprooting sensitive ecologies. This is known to leave behind a trail of toxic tailings, leading to irreparable harms, damages and violence, and has a heavy carbon footprint. We therefore reiterate our request for the ADB to define what it means by “climate-smart mining”, and provide clarity on how human rights standards are being centrally considered,  crucially inclusive of ensuring respect of communities’ rights to withhold consent in the process of FPIC. Moving forward, we urge the ADB management and board to add mining and associated activities (consultancies for mapping and exploratory programs, processing industries, international trade and shipping finance, etc.) on its prohibited investment list under the new Environmental and Social Framework now under discussion at the Bank. This is in particular recognition of the range of human and environmental rights violations associated with mining in general, for which the ADB, as a regional MDB, is insufficiently prepared to handle. 

Your correspondence suggests that “no support to uranium mining or related policies will be provided”. Given that the consultants hired are to be engaged in supporting the mapping out of resources for extraction, we consider it incumbent upon the Bank to clearly mention this commitment in writing by accordingly revising the guidance for consultants and the project data sheet. Text revisions should also include the explicit mention of the steps the Bank will take to ensure that it will not support any end use in weapons manufacturing, given that rare earths/transition minerals typically are used in various production lines, including the global arms trade. 

We also find it deeply disturbing that the main document on the ADB’s website outlining this technical assistance explains that “Data and information provided will not be made publicly available, unless included in public documents such as knowledge products, for which prior permission for use [from the Ministry of Economy and Development and the Ministry of Mining and Heavy Industry] will be sought.” Access to information is the first step in ensuring transparency and accountability, and far too often non-disclosure clauses are used to shield responsible actors from providing key information to concerned communities and civil society groups. Therefore, we also urge the ADB to refrain from including such sweeping clauses of non-disclosure, as it undermines the ADB’s own policy commitments to transparency, and the options available for external actors to seek accountability.

Finally, we would like to underscore our deep dismay that at the ADB’s 2024 Asia Clean Energy Conference this month, the ADB is convening a “Deep Dive Workshop” on 5th June on “Critical Minerals and Clean Energy Technology Manufacturing Supply Chains,” which highlights the role of Mongolia, Indonesia, Philippines and Kazakhstan as important zones of mineral extraction in the pursuit of “accelerated clean energy transition”. Among the beneficial qualities noted by the ADB that makes these countries “well-positioned to become a global powerhouse” is the “low-cost labor”. This broader framing and promotion of expanding mining reaffirms our concerns about the complete lack of a human rights approach, nor any real attention being paid to the actual reality of the long-term negative environmental, social, cultural, and economic implications of endless unchecked economic growth. 

We look forward to hearing responses from you and your colleagues.


Action Paysanne Contre la Faim, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Adarsha Samajik Progoti Sangstha, Bangladesh

Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM), Philippines

Armenian Women for Health and Healthy Environment, Armenia

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

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Regional, Asia

Bandhan, Bangladesh

Bangladesh Working Group on Ecology and Development (BWGED), Bangladesh

Bantay Kita - Publish What You Pay Philippines, Philippines

Building and Wood Workers International Asia Pacific, Malaysia

Bangladesh Working Group on External Debt (BWGED), Bangladesh

Centre for Human Rights and Development, Mongolia

Centre for Research and Advocacy Manipur, India

Coastal Livelihood and Environmental Action Network (CLEAN), Bangladesh

Community Development Friend (CDF), Bangladesh

Community Resource Centre, Thailand

Conseil Regional des Organisations Non Gouvernementales de développement, RDC

Defenders in Development Campaign, Global

Environmental Public Society, Armenia

Freedom from Debt Coalition, Philippines

GAIA Asia Pacific, Asia Pacific

Greenfield Livelihood Services (GLS), Bangladesh

Initiative for Right View, Bangladesh

Lawyers For Energy Environment and Development (LEED), Bangladesh

Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC), Philippines

LGBT Center, Mongolia

London Mining Network, United Kingdom

Mangrove Action Project, USA

Manushya Foundation, Thailand

MiningWatch Canada, Canada

Mongla Nagorik Samaj, Bangladesh

Mongolian Environmental Civil Council, Mongolia

NGO Forum on ADB, Regional-Asia

National CSOs Network for the SDGs, Mongolia

Network Movement for Justice and Development, Sierra Leone

Oil Workers' Rights Protection Organization Public Union, Azerbaijan

Open Azerbaijan Initiative, Azerbaijan

Oyu Tolgoi Watch, Mongolia

Pakistan Fisherfolk forum, Pakistan

Peace Point Development Foundation-PPDF, Nigeria

People for Himalayan Development, India

People's Coalition for Food Sovereignty, Mongolia

Protection International Mesoamérica, Regional

Psychological Responsiveness NGO, Mongolia, Mongolia

RECODH, Cameroon

Rivers without Boundaries Coalition, Mongolia

Samata, India

Sayanaa Wellbeing Association NGO, Mongolia

Society for Participatory Education and Development (SPED), Bangladesh

Songshoptaque, Bangladesh

Step Without Border NGO, Mongolia

The Onggi river movement, Mongolia

Trend Asia, Indonesia

University of Barishal, Bangladesh

Urgewald, Germany

Volunteer for Bangladesh, Bangladesh

Witness Radio - Uganda., Uganda

Young Power in Social Action (YPSA), Bangladesh

Zurgaan Buudal Residents Rights & Interests Protection Federation NGO, Mongolia

Говийн Газар Шороо НҮТББ Монгол

Climate-Smart Mining for a New Climate Economy (Project 57273-001)
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