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NGO Forum on ADB Statement on the 55th ADBAnnual Governors’ Meeting (First Stage)

NGO Forum on ADB Statement on the 55th ADB

Annual Governors’ Meeting

(First Stage)

On the occasion of the First Stage of the 55th Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), we take this opportunity to reiterate unresolved concerns arising from community-based, national and regional civil society organizations that monitor the investments, policies and implications of the ADB across the Asia and Pacific, and to urge the Bank to reassess its financing priorities and approaches.

As this year’s virtual event is hosted by Sri Lanka and chaired by the Sri Lankan Finance Minister Ali Sabry, we collectively extend our solidarity with the diverse peoples’ movements across the region – including most notably in Sri Lanka, but also in Myanmar, India and the Philippines among others, mobilizing in defense of social, economic, environmental, gender and energy justice, and ultimately, livelihoods with dignity. We also remain alarmed by –and alert to – the range of devastating repercussions across the region stemming from the war in Ukraine, in particular for those with colleagues, friends and family members in Ukraine and Russia, as well as for those in closest proximity, across Central Asia and the Caucasus.

At a time when the ADB has labeled this meeting as a time to advance the “Climate Resilient Green Economy for the Post – COVID – 19 World,” it is crucial that ADB’s support for COVID – 19 recovery does not result in further cutbacks in the developing member countries’ public expenditure on key social services. Specifically, we urge the ADB to avoid providing technical assistance or investments geared towards reforming the health, education, water and energy sectors through privatization or models of public – private partnerships, which we’ve repeatedly seen lead to services becoming less accessible, less accountable to the very people for which these services are supposed to support, and more reliant on workforces that are pushed to accept substandard working conditions.

Over the course of 2021, ADB financing of large scale hydropower dams and expansive gas schemes, for example in Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka - despite being labeled as green, resilient or ‘climate smart’ – risk further exacerbating dispossession of affected peoples, depriving them of livelihoods, while placing the future of entire nation states into question (given the potential of carbon lock-in and loss of critical ecosystems relied upon for populations to survive, for example). As major riverbeds are drying up, flash floods, extended periods of drought and other extreme weather events are becoming the norm, it is clear that a just, and equitable process for phasing out fossil fuel dependence will be necessary. However, we firmly disagree with the ADB’s recently suggested “Four Paths to a Climate-Friendly Energy Transition for Asia and the Pacific” claiming “oil companies are on the front lines of the energy transition”, and that “ESG scores have the potential to attract trillions of dollars in private sector capital to address climate goals”. In contrast, from our perspective, it is the communities across the region, living in the most climate vulnerable areas of the world – including coastal regions and small island states threatened by rising sea levels – who are the ones taking the lead in driving forward demands for locally relevant, small-scale and community controlled energy systems.

We have seen and felt first-hand the ways that ADB’s investments exacerbate indebtedness, deprive people of affordable and comprehensive universal health care services, increase levels of chronic hunger amidst the critical shortage of affordable staple foods, and facilitate reliance on resource-intensive, extractivist forms of energy. With our perspectives grounded in these lived experiences, we continue to assert that just, inclusive, sustainable transitions across South, Southeast, North and Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Pacific cannot and will not be realized if power is wrested in the hands of the very transnational, multinational and national corporations that have proven track records of committing human and environmental rights violations across the region.

With the Asia Clean Energy Forum 2022 now on the horizon, we recall ACEF 2021 as a time when civil society groups spoke out firmly against the ADB’s energy policy (at the time, only a draft). Groups from across Asia and allies globally made a united decision to disengage with the session scheduled by the ADB during the formal program, and instead undertook our own online press conference. This was purposefully opened as a space for groups working with communities directly impacted by ADB financed energy projects to speak out –to explain directly why the ADB needs to stop approving new investments in gas, oil, large-scale hydropower dams, as well as waste-to-energy infrastructure, instead shifting towards decentralized, appropriately scaled renewable energy.

Months later, in the lead up to the Board’s approval of the final version of the 2021 Energy Policy in October, civil society groups came together again to call for the Board to suspend the decision and go back to the drawing board. At the time, we urged a reconsideration of the Energy Policy provisions in order to enable a more nuanced consideration of:

  • the current energy and climate challenges facing remote, rural, urban and peri-urban communities across Central, South and Southeast Asia and the Pacific;

  • the latest climate data and analytics available (according to the IPCC Assessment 6 Reports);

  • the need to shift support to enable the roll-out of decentralized, locally controlled and appropriately scaled renewable energy systems, including in island-based, remote and marginalized communities,

  • support for just, inclusive, sustainable energy transitions with nuanced and appropriate approaches grounded in the different realities of Central, South, Southeast and North Asia, the Caucasus and the Pacific,

  • comprehensive assurances of alignment with all international human rights frameworks, inclusive of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, as recognized by the UN Human Rights Council, and all ILO Conventions, as well as ensuring public disclosure and accessibility of associated guidance documents (on gas, hydropower and waste to energy projects).

Although the Board approved the policy in October 2021, we continue to raise our concerns, and now in May 2022, are still reiterating the call for associated guidance notes to be made subject to public comment at a draft stage and public disclosure once finalized.

We are also mindful that the ADB Annual Meeting will be a time when ADB looks back at agreements forged during COP 26. In this regard, we would like to remind the Bank of the statement issued by civil society groups across the region during the unveiling of the private-sector oriented Energy Transition Mechanism (coal retirement scheme) at COP26 in Glasgow. At that time, we outlined several key concerns including:

  • the long timeline suggested for winding down operational coal-fired power plants (up to 15 years) and associated implications for local people, environment and economies;

  • the likelihood of undermining national as well as international ambitions to uphold the provisions of the Paris Climate Accord and recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change;

  • the lack of assurances that the early retirement of coal plants will not result in the expansion of other fossil fuel reliant energy infrastructure;

  • and the severe lack of opportunities provided to date for communities as well as civil society and people’s organizations to engage with the ADB’s processes of formulating this scheme.

Up until now, nearly mid-way through 2022, civil society organizations still continue to raise significant concerns, specifically in the Philippines and Indonesia, about the expected piloting phase of this scheme in the year ahead.

Finally, as the 2009 ADB Safeguard Policy Statement is currently under review, the Forum reiterates our demands for comprehensive, rights-based safeguards, accompanied by a robust implementation plan. Taking a precautionary approach, considering alternatives (including the no project option), and responding to community concerns should be considered as integral aspects of project implementation from the outset, not simply checkbox exercises. In addition, in light of the ADB’s own claims towards upholding climate resilience, it is time for the Bank to take the cue from MDBs already introducing respect for “no go zones” by integrating provisions as outlined by the model Banks and Biodiversity No Go Policy directly into its updated Safeguard Policy. Going forward, the ADB must also look towards more stringent application of “equivalence and acceptability assessments” prior to taking into consideration the potential use of country safeguard systems. Doing away with these assessments for the sake of flexibility and practical purposes is contrary to attaining more equitable, just development outcomes. Looking ahead, we urge the ADB to consider integrating provisions that would clearly uphold a zero tolerance position in regards to reprisals against community members and allied advocates at – and around – all project sites. There can be no genuine recovery, if the bank continues to systematically fail in upholding safeguards, transparency and accountability in its lending, investment and technical assistance portfolio.

Endorsed by the following organizations -

350 Pilipinas, Philippines Asia, Asia

Aksi! for gender, social and ecological justice, Indonesia

Asian Peoples' Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD), Regional

Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication, Bangladesh

Bangladesh Working Group on External Debt (BWGED), Bangladesh

Bank Information Center, USA

Building and Wood Workers International Asia Pacific, Philippines

CEE Bankwatch Network, Czechia

Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development, Philippines

Centre for Environmental Justice, Sri Lanka

CLEAN (Coastal Livelihood and Environmental Action Network), Bangladesh

Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt (CADTM),, India

Community Empowerment and Social Justice Network (CEMSOJ), Nepal

debtWATCH Indonesia, Indonesia

Environics Trust, India

Environmental public society, Armenia

Equitable Cambodia, Cambodia

FIAN Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka

Freedom from Debt Coalition, Philippines

Friends of the Earth US, US

Gender Action, Global

Growthwatch, India

Humane Society International, United States

Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF), India

Indigenous Women's Legal Awareness Group (INWOLAG), NEPAL

Initiative for Rights View,, Bangladesh

Life haven Center for independent living, Philippines

Mekong Watch, Japan

Oil Workers' Rights Protection Organization Public Union, Azerbaijan,

OTWatch Mongolia, Mongolia

Prakriti Resources Centre, Nepal

Recourse, The Netherlands

Sri Lanka Nature Group, Sri Lanka

The Bretton Woods Project, United Kingdom

Youth Group on Protection of Environment, Tajikistan

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