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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on May 4th, 2007
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)

ADB Annual Meeting In Manila will now Promote Environmental Projects. Question – what are environmental projects?
Article based on HANS GREIMEL reporting for Associated Press from Manila, May 4, 2007.
The Asian Development Bank opened its annual meeting Friday with its president pledging to pursue environmental friendly policies amid criticism from activists who claim its economic growth strategies fuel global warming and degrade the environment.

As a greener energy alternative to the coal that is widely used today, the bank may even end its long-standing rejection of nuclear energy and embrace it as a power source for the rapidly expanding region, the ADB’s energy chief said.

The rethinking at the bank, which was chartered four decades ago to fight poverty through economic growth, comes as the ADB struggles to counter a mentality that poor nations must sacrifice the environment to the march of progress. Activists have increasingly criticized the bank for funding such development.

The environmental group Greenpeace led the attack Friday, urging the ADB to spend more on promoting clean energy technologies, instead of supporting the use of coal, the burning of which fuels global warming.

“The ADB is claiming it supports clean energy,” Greenpeace spokeswoman Athena Ballesteros said in a statement. “If this is more than empty rhetoric, the Bank must announce it will increase the $1 billion it has committed to spend on clean energy annually by 10 percent each year over the next decade.”

ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda cited increased pressure on the environment as one of the emerging challenges facing Asia, and said it was important to have a special focus on energy and the environment, particularly in relation to climate change.

“Not only are we following more stringent safeguard policies, we are now promoting various projects which will positively improve the environment,” he said at a news conference.

A decade after the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Asia is standing on its own feet. But its rapidly increasing wealth is posing it with new issues.

The breakneck economic development that the bank helped spur with its loans has unleashed a wave of environmental woes the bank is now trying to reverse. It has also lifted millions from poverty, which is forcing the bank to update its primary focus from poverty alleviation to sustainable development.

In Kyoto, some 3,000 delegates from the ADB’s 67 member governments will debate plans to make the bank more responsive to environmental woes. The bank currently spends $1 billion a year on clean energy, but has no immediate plans to phase out funding for coal projects, which are seen as more economical for the region.

Activists acknowledge the bank is doing more to counter environmental problems but argue that more action is needed. Too much ADB money is still channeled toward fossil fuel energy, according to Greenpeace.

Japan, which has the second-highest voting power in the ADB after the United States, was expected to contribute $100 million to set up a special environmental fund at the bank.

WooChong Um, the ADB’s director on energy policy, said secure, affordable energy sources are key to the bank’s mandate of ending poverty in Asia. But it is also important to get a balance of difference kinds of energy sources, so poor countries aren’t overly reliant on one, he said.

“We try to push the choices toward clean energy, renewable energy, wind power, solar power,” Um said. “But we also have to help them if they have to resort to fossil fuel.”

The Manila, Philippines-based ADB has a standing policy of not advocating atomic power out of concerns of safety and possible conversion to weapons use. But that too is being reconsidered under a new energy policy to soon be adopted.

“Now we have an environment were a lot of climate change issues are becoming a significant and nuclear power is quite positive in that context,” Um said. “So we are actually debating it internally.”

The ADB is reviewing three options. One is maintaining the no-nukes policy. The other is to promote full use of nuclear power. The third would be to let countries themselves or the private sector build and operate nuclear plants and position the ADB as a financial backer of waste collection, environmental protection and security matters.

“We’ll decide in the next three months or so which way we’ll go,” Um said.

Organizers were hoping the ADB’s environmental agenda gets a boost from the host city, Kyoto, where an international protocol to fight global warming was born 10 years ago.

The Japanese environmental grant is expected be announced at the ADB’s annual meeting.

The fund will promote renewable energy resources, such as solar power, and encourage nations to build environmentally friendly infrastructure, the reports said. The move comes as a quickly growing Asia grapples with how to balance industrial development with environmental preservation.

Delegates at the conference will also review a set of recommendations issued earlier in early April by a blue-ribbon panel of experts on how to update the ADB’s basic mission from poverty alleviation – given that about 90 percent of the region’s people will be “middle income” by 2020.

The ADB was established in 1966 with 31 members and gets most of its funding from issuing bonds and from contributions of its members governments.

Major borrowers include China, Indonesia, Pakistan and Vietnam, with most of the money traditionally going toward agriculture and rural development.

The ADB approved some $7.4 billion in loans in 2006, up 28 percent from the year before.

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