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The Asian Development Bank Must End Its Lethal Addiction to Coal

The Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) annual meeting in Yokohama Japan this week marks its 50th anniversary. Yet there is little to celebrate.

ADB operations around the world have left a trail of destruction; people displaced and negative impacts on farming lands, rivers, forests and the climate.

The bank claims to finance development with the aim of alleviating poverty in the Asia Pacific region. Despite this noble vision, the ADB fails to provide a better future for Asia’s poorest. Its neoliberal policies are grossly inadequate at addressing perhaps the greatest threat to Asia’s poor: climate change.

The ADB actually recognizes climate change as a fundamental threat to poverty alleviation. Climate change will hit the poorest the hardest as, to use ADB’s own words,

“they encounter more intense tropical storms, more severe and more frequent droughts and floods, accelerated melting of glaciers and rises in the sea level, higher frequency of forest fires, shortages of freshwater, threatened crop production and aquaculture, higher incidence of heat-related and infectious diseases.”

Yet despite this, the bank has repeatedly prioritised the financing of coal projects over renewable energy alternatives. Coal is the biggest single contributor to human induced global warming.

The ADB even recognises the role of coal fired power in exacerbating climate change. But in the last decade they have invested over $3 billion in coal projects. They are the world’s third largest multilateral public financier of coal infrastructure.

India: ‘damage to local communities’ health and livelihoods’

Perhaps their most controversial project to date is the $450 million investment in the 4,000-megawatt Tata Mundra Ultra Mega Coal plant in the Indian state of Gujarat.

The bank’s own compliance review panel exposed a lack of consultation with local communities and a failure to comply with waste and pollution management strategies. Shortcomings that resulted in significant harm to the local environment and damage to local communities’ health and livelihoods.

The Tata Mundra plant is estimated to be India’s third largest emitters of greenhouse gases. Coal dust from conveyor belts feeding the power station threaten human health and contaminate agriculture. Infrastructure has damaged groundwater systems, polluting local communities’ drinking water sources.

But thanks to the ‘legal immunity for investments’ the ADB enjoys, it cannot be held responsible for these crimes. So, after 50 years of getting away with this impunity Friends of the Earth Asia-Pacific joins other social movements to demand the withdrawal of ADB immunity. This would at least enable people to sue the bank for the impacts its coal funding has on local communities and climate change.

Many multilateral banks have reduced their coal funding in response to climate obligations. Sadly none have stopped funding coal altogether.

Given the danger that burning coal poses to the global climate, it’s time the ADB took some moral leadership. The bank must ban the funding of all coal projects. It should use its influence to encourage other multilateral and bilateral public lending institutions to do the same [1].

This is a particularly pertinent point, given the emergence of new lending institutions which, sadly, seem to be embracing coal. For example, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which claims to be a “green, clean, lean” bank for the region. Yet the AIIB’s draft energy strategy states that “coal-fired power plants would be considered if they replace existing less efficient capacity.”

The ADB could therefore play a crucial role in halting coal financing.

The time to stop funding coal is now!

The Asian Development Bank is facing increasing pressure from all sides; internationally, locally and from its own shareholders. The hypocrisy of their climate action public relations spin is becoming increasingly untenable as climate change becomes a daily reality for Asia’s poor.

Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific therefore call on the ADB to:

1/ Rule out funding any future coal mine or coal fired power station projects;

2/ Prioritise the development and establishment of sustainable renewable energy projects and promote community energy and energy efficiency to meet the energy needs of people in the Asia Pacific

3/ Use their profile to lobby other finance institutions in the Asia Pacific region to rule out funding of coal projects; and

4/ Urgently review the impacts of oil, gas and unconventional gas projects on local communities and the climate, and to rule out projects that exacerbate environmental degradation and climate change.

Report: ‘Stop coal financing in the Asia Pacific‘ is published by Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific.

Hemantha Withanage is a co-founder and the Executive Director of Centre for Environmental Justice, Sri Lanka. An Executive Member of Friends of the Earth International, he is also the Convenor of Sri Lankan Working Group on Trade and IFIs, and has been a member of the ELAW (Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide) since 1991.

References

1. Japan, China, South Korea – are the first, 3rd and 6th biggest shareholders within the ADB – their bilateral agencies are the world’s largest financiers for coal (source: NRDC and Oil Change, Nov. 2016)

 

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