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Responding to ADB’s Announcements and Presence at COP28

Updated: Jan 12

During COP28 in Dubai in early December 2023, NGO Forum on ADB took the opportunity of the presence of the ADB senior management to call for meetings when Network members, allies and the Secretariat would be able to collectively raise critical policy and project-related questions about the two institutions’ respective climate finance portfolios. Several of us managed to meet with senior management of the ADB’s Climate Change and Sustainable Development Department, outlining our call for ADB’s recently launched Climate Change Action Plan (CCAP) to be thoroughly overhauled (as elaborated in our recent statement and collective open letter) and bringing forward specific points related to:

  • The high number of projects tagged as climate finance that are associated with unresolved grievances (i.e. the reality that loans for so-called ‘climate smart’ or ‘climate resilient’ development are resulting in harms on the ground for affected communities)

  • ADB’s recent announcement and posting about new support for expanding the hydropower sector in Nepal and in Sikkim, NE India. In the case of Nepal, there are long-standing unresolved grievances and an open case at ADB’s Accountability Mechanism regarding the development of the Tanahu Hydropower Project. In Sikkim, ADB’s proposal to support planning for more hydropower/associated facilities is most especially alarming in light of the Teesta III dam collapse in October 2023. This means that the ADB appears prepared to move forward with considering financing hydropower expansion despite the toll on communities and river ecologies, the surrounding Indigenous Peoples’ communities vocal opposition to damming the rivers upon which their survival depends, the risk of exacerbating sovereign debt levels, and all evidence showing that building out large hydropower projects will undermine — not enable — 'climate resilience'.

  • ADB’s support for Just Energy Transition Partnerships (JETPs) in the region, which is proceeding without necessary frameworks to deal with heightened risk of reprisals against people working on energy transition issues and the resulting silencing of civil society voices. In Vietnam, for instance, leaders of social, energy, environmental and climate justice groups — and even one woman who worked as a consultant for multilateral development banks — have been jailed. The ADB, World Bank Group and UN-affiliated institutions are all implicated in the JETP processes; it is incumbent upon them to put forward a joint, proactive response, calling for an end to the intimidation and incarceration of civil society advocates, grounded in international human rights standards. 

  • ADB’s current approach to including waste incineration as ‘clean energy’ (including as mentioned in the new CCAP) remains of high concern. Relying on burning waste does not help position us on a pathway for a just energy transition and fails to take into account methane gas and other GHG emissions, dependence on perpetuating waste production as well as the rights of waste workers, for example.

  • Civil society groups in the Philippines are still waiting for a response to the collective submission outlining critical concerns about the Climate Investment Funds “Accelerating Coal Transition”  Investment Plan (CIF-ACT), which was sent to ADB, World Bank Group (WBG) and Philippines Department of Energy representatives. We expect a response, not for all three institutions to shirk their respective responsibilities. 

    • As explained in our submission about the ETM/CIF-ACT model: In the pilot cases for coal projects identified for ‘repurposing’ in Indonesia and the Philippines, private sector companies involved in the coal projects which stand to benefit from funding arrangements are still heavily invested in the coal sector, and continue to be involved in building out the coal fleet. This means that companies are continuing business as usual while getting support from the ADB and World Bank Group to repurpose mid-aged assets, escaping accountability for harms, losses and damages incurred on residents and workers.

In response, ADB management followed a seemingly scripted reply of explaining they want to make “every dollar of investment more effective” by following the CCAP, suggesting that all projects will be adhering to current safeguard standards / the forthcoming Environmental and Social Framework (once finalized), and suggesting that though they feel civil society groups concerns concerns about the Energy Transition Mechanism are “misplaced”, they would nevertheless look into the lack of response to the CIF-ACT Letter. 

The inadequacy of the replies received were telling, indicative of the ongoing pressure we need to leverage collectively moving forward into 2024 to push back on models and schemes being proposed within the scope of climate finance by the ADB as well as other Multilateral Development Banks. 

We subsequently secured a meeting with the ADB’s Deputy Director for the South Asia Department, during which concerns were specifically raised about the joint ADB and World Bank announcement to support the development of two more mega dams in Nepal (Upper Arun and Dudhkoshi), most especially in light of the range of unresolved grievances of communities to be affected by the Tanahu Hydropower Project, and the recent posting of proposed support for the hydropower sector in Sikkim.

The response that we received was that in both Nepal and India, the ADB is evidently focussing on providing capacity to state authorities to maximize transmission and distribution of energy being generated, adhere to safeguards when developing new projects, and to “avoid inefficiencies”, for example by installing meters to minimize “people stealing power” from the main grid. Together, we questioned such assumptions being made by the ADB management, highlighting:

  • the devastating realities of large-scale hydropower developments for Indigenous Peoples’ communities and mountainous riparian ecosystems across Nepal and India, 

  • the fact that Indigenous Peoples’ communities in both countries are actively opposing further damming of these rivers, and instead in many cases, calling for decommissioning of those which currently exist, 

  • the real risks to lives of people upstream, downstream and across borders due to climate-induced glacial outbreak floods, extreme weather events as well as seismic prone geographies, and

  • the reality that power generated is often not accessible to local people, in no way creating better living conditions for the majority of people affected. 

In contrast to our ability to engage with the ADB senior staff present at COP28, AIIB representatives did not confirm any options to meet with Forum representatives and allies, despite multiple requests. Nevertheless, Forum Secretariat and allied groups made our presence known, visiting the AIIB pavilion to introduce ourselves and assert that we have project as well as policy concerns which we will continue to bring forward through online and future in-person interactions.

Beyond raising critical questions in the presence of ADB and AIIB management, Forum members and allies were active in a number of spaces at COP28. This included convening discussions about just transitions in South Asia, advancing the urgent need to halt the expansion of fossil gas infrastructure in Southeast Asia, denouncing the ways in which MDB-backed models for energy transition support the fossil fuel industry to survive, leading to further debt burdens for governments and the building-out of large-scale RE projects that violate the rights of affected populations, raising the implications of shrinking civic space in the midst of negotiations for JETPs, highlighting the need for  zero waste solutions, not building new waste incineration facilities, exposing hydropower dams as false climate solutions, and joining together in collective civil society actions unifying the urgent calls to stop the genocide of Palestinian people through an immediate, unconditional ceasefire, lifting of the seige on Gaza and an end to the occupation, along with an equitable, fast, fair, fully-funded, feminist phase out of fossil fuels. 

As we move into 2024, all of these calls remain priorities, requiring collective coordinated responses across the region and beyond.


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