Asian Development Bank (ADB)’s draft Safeguards Policy Falls Short on Ambition

GAIA Asia Pacific calls for stronger safeguards

The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) Asia Pacific,  a network of 120 grassroots alliances in the region, said that the recently released Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) draft Environmental and Social Framework (ESF)  for public commenting is failing to protect people and the environment in a world where six out of nine planetary boundaries are already breached. This raises the risk of large-scale, abrupt, and potentially irreversible environmental changes that further worsen social inequalities in the region.

Brex Arevalo, GAIA Asia Pacific’s Climate and Anti-Incineration Campaigner commented, “While the draft does express commitment to a circular economy and a just transition, there is a significant lack of operational clarity regarding these principles including clear commitments to multilateral environmental agreements and rights instruments signed by states, leaving us to question whether the Bank is protecting industry polluters instead of people and the environment.”

The ESF is a policy instrument that aims to avoid,  minimize, and mitigate environmental and social harm from ADB’s development projects. It lays down the environmental and social safeguards requirements and principles for the public and private sector borrowers. It is a tool to enhance development outcomes and improve accountability.   The draft ESF is undergoing a policy review process 14 years after its implementation. 

Arevalo stresses that a safe and just circular economy should primarily set a principle upon lesser use of material resources in the economy, eliminating toxic and hazardous chemicals, ecosystem regeneration, and stamping out false solutions to circularity. 

Arevalo also points out another significant omission in the draft, stating, “Yet another glaring oversight is the absence of safeguards concerning air pollution and the repeated default to offsetting or compensating for their pollution by doing other projects as an option for polluters.”  

These proposals are particularly troubling, considering that the energy sector is one of ADB’s biggest portfolios that includes expensive and dirty technofixes such as waste-to-energy (WtE) incineration, refuse-derived fuel (RDF), cement kilns, and carbon capture utilization storage projects across Asia; undermining various environmental and human rights objectives adopted and signed by governments since 2009. These endeavors additionally result in higher emissions than coal-fired power plants, obstructing progress in the decarbonization of the energy sector, and exacerbating the climate crisis.

GAIA Asia Pacific also points out that the draft ESF does not address the whole range of toxic and hazardous chemicals of global concern that are found in the production and deployment of false solutions on waste. These include persistent organic pollutants (POPs), lead, cadmium, and mercury that are already being eliminated and regulated in various multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). 

Moreover, the draft ESF does not provide protection for the rights of informal workers such as wastepickers and recyclers even as it expresses commitment to just transition. These sectors, according to GAIA Asia Pacific, contribute largely to the recovery of materials crucial for an inclusive circular economy. 

GAIA Asia Pacific’s statement was submitted in time for the ADB’s October 27 Board meeting where its members will discuss the working paper of the ESF draft. This forms part of Phase 3 of the consultation process that will proceed until March 2024.