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More than 60 Asian CSOs call on ADB to clarify details of its coal retirement mechanism

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) must delay soliciting financial support for its coal buy-out scheme in Southeast Asia at COP26 until it has addressed a number of practical concerns about this proposal, including the risk it could undermine an ambitious, swift, and just transition from coal in targeted areas, an alliance of non-governmental organizations from across Asia said on Monday.

On November 3, the ADB plans to launch its  Energy Transition Mechanism (ETM), a private-sector led initiative to retire existing coal power plants early, starting with a pilot phase in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam. In an open letter to ADB management and board members, major donor governments and supporters of the initiative including Prudential, SE4All, Rockefeller Foundation and Bezos Fund, more than 60 civil society organizations instead demanded ADB to forego the announcement.

The CSO signatories, almost all of which are from the Asia region, are insistent that injustices wrought on communities by coal power projects come to an end as soon as possible, but they point out that there are no assurances the ADB’s ETM will actually shorten rather than prolong the lifespan of coal facilities. It’s also unclear that it will hasten the transition to renewables and protect end-users from exposure to increased costs of power. Power plants in the target countries are not subject to market pressures and thus any buy-outs will have to contend with state support and opaque power purchase agreements.  Analysis from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis suggests that, if designed poorly, such a scheme could actually create direct or indirect incentives for coal-fired power plant operators to prolong the operations.

Meanwhile, civil society and community stakeholders from these countries have yet to be informed of the details of the ETM in their own languages, to have opportunities to be consulted, seek clarity, and provide input. “We urge ADB not to gamble with our climate survival and the possibility of ending coal in a swift, just, and genuinely transformative manner with a premature buy-out scheme that remains shrouded in uncertainty,” the letter says.

The main concerns include:

  • A lack of clarity as to why the estimated timeline for winding down coal-fired power plants operating under the ETM may be up to 15 years, subjecting people to years more of unreliable, inefficient, and polluting coal-fired power, while cheaper renewable energy sources that could have come online would be left untapped;
  • No assurances that capacities lost to early retirement of coal plants will be replaced by renewable energy sources (as there are no explicit safeguards to avoid a corresponding expansion in infrastructure for fossil gas-fired power);
  • A lack of clarity in relation to how the ETM would avoid overpaying – or creating incentives for – operators of older plants to extend their planned lifespan in the expectation of receiving finance;
  • The involvement – or potential involvement – in the scheme of financiers and developers implicated in the build out of the coal fleet elsewhere in the region or even the same countries;
  • Whether electricity end-users will be forced to shoulder additional costs; and
  • The severe lack of opportunities provided to date for communities and civil society and people’s organizations to engage with the ADB’s processes of formulating the ETM.

Gerry Arances, executive director of Center for Energy, Ecology and Development (CEED) in the Philippines, said: “While it could be a step in the right direction to free developing nations from the clutches of coal, the ETM as it stands gives no assurance that it will actually shorten the life of coal-fired power plants. The ADB has not even provided adequate consultation with civil society over issues such as whether electricity users will bear the costs of bailing out coal plant operators.”

The ADB acknowledges some of the constraints on the ETM in its project-related documents but has yet to address the overarching questions underpinning their approach raised by civil society groups. Rushing to drum up support in time for COP26 risks making the mechanism as it stands a “fait accompli” in the eyes of the world climate community, argue the CSOs. They contend that given the ADB’s legacy of investing in coal and other fossil fuel reliant infrastructure, it is time for the Bank to ‘consign coal to history’ — but in a manner that is “transparent, genuinely transformative, aligned to climate imperatives” and prioritizes access to clean, affordable, and sustainable energy in the communities of the Bank’s borrowing member countries.

Tanya Lee Roberts-Davis, Energy Campaigns Strategist, NGO Forum on ADB stated:Given the legacy of the ADB’s past and ongoing support for coal projects, it is most certainly incumbent upon the Bank to shift priorities towards supporting a just and inclusive energy transition in coal-affected regions of borrowing member countries.

However, it is far from clear how the ADB’s planned coal buy-out schemes — which are geared towards private sector buy-in — will not put profit margins above the needs of communities already ravaged by the devastating impacts of such toxic power facilities. There is no indication whatsoever how their ETM model will avert sidelining the rights of communities in the targetted areas for redress of the harm and damage inflicted,  or avoid undermining collective aspirations for a truly transformative energy transition, grounded in land, water, gender, and socio-economic justice. This is most especially the case if the coal ‘retirement’ phase ends up being drawn out over several years, or if ‘alternative’ sources of power are to be derived from no less resource-intensive, extractivist models, such as fossil gas, waste to energy incinerators and large scale hydropower dams. Why hastily leap into this coal transition initiative that remains full of risky burdens to both people and the environment? There are so many other ways the ADB should be deploying its limited financing so that it can genuinely contribute towards supporting locally relevant, just energy transitions scaled to meet the needs of communities, fully accountable to — and in control — of the public.

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Environment

Climate change: For 25th year in a row, Greenland ice sheet shrinks

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2021 marked the 25th year in a row in which the key Greenland ice sheet lost more mass during the melting season, than it gained during the winter, according to a new UN-endorsed report issued on Friday. 

The data from the Danish Arctic monitoring service Polar Portal – which forms part of the UN weather agency WMO’s annual State of the Climate report – shows that early summer was cold and wet, with unusually heavy and late snowfall in June, which delayed the onset of the melting season. 

After that, however, a heatwave at the end of July, led to a considerable loss of ice. 

In terms of “total mass balance” (the sum of surface melting and loss of ice chunks from icebergs, in addition to the melting of glacier “tongues” in contact with seawater), the ice sheet lost around 166 billion tonnes during the 12-month period ending in August 2021. 

Climate change 

These numbers mean the ice sheet ended the season with a net surface mass balance of approximately 396 billion tonnes, making it the 28th lowest level recorded, in the 41-year time series.  

This could be considered an average year, but Polar Report notes how perspectives have changed, due to rapidly advancing climate change. 

At the end of the 1990s, for example, these same figures would have been regarded as a year with a very low surface mass balance. 

The report also notes that the cause of the early summer chill, could be due to conditions over southwest Canada and the northwest United States. 

In these territories, an enormous “blocking” high pressure system was formed, shaped like the Greek capital letter Omega (Ω). 

This flow pattern occurs regularly in the troposphere, and not just over North America, but it had never been observed with such strength before. 

According to the report, an analysis by World Weather Attribution demonstrated that it could only be explained as a result of atmospheric warming caused by human activity. 

Notable year 

According to the report, 2021 was notable for several reasons. 

It was the year in which precipitation at Summit Station, which is located at the top of the ice sheet at an altitude of 3,200 metres above sea level, was registered in the form of rain. 

The year also saw an acceleration of the loss of ice at the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier, where the rate of loss had otherwise been stagnant for several years. 

Winter snowfall was also close to average for the period between 1981 and 2010, which was good news, because a combination of low winter snowfall and a warm summer can result in very large losses of ice, as was the case in 2019. 

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Environment

2022: Emergency mode for the environment

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As the new year gets underway, the world continues to grapple with a number of familiar challenges – the continued COVID-19 pandemic, resurgent wildfires, enduring crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste. Yet, 2022 could prove to be a seminal year for the environment, with high-level events and conferences scheduled, which are hoped to re-energize international cooperation and collective action.

The coming year will also mark two golden jubilees. In 1972, the world took up the environmental mantle at the historic UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm. The meeting firmly placed the environment on the priority list of governments, civil society, businesses and policymakers, recognizing the inextricable links between the planet, human well-being and economic growth. Now, fifty years later, the Stockholm+50 meeting in June 2022 will commemorate the event, reflect upon half a century of global environmental action and look forward.

The Stockholm Conference also birthed the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the UN entity mandated to monitor the state of the environment, inform policymaking with science and galvanize action. For fifty years since, UNEP has used its convening power and rigorous scientific research to coordinate a global effort to tackle environmental challenges. A series of activities will mark UNEP’s 50th anniversary this year.

UNEP is going into 2022 with a new “Medium-Term Strategy” featuring seven interlinked subprogrammes for action: Climate Action, Chemicals and Pollutions Action, Nature Action, Science Policy, Environmental Governance, Finance and Economic Transformations and Digital Transformations. The strategy was agreed at 2021’s fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly; the resumed session, known as UNEA 5.2 will take place in February 2022. Under the overarching theme of ‘Strengthening Actions for Nature to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals’, discussions will highlight the pivotal role of nature in social, economic and environmental sustainable development.

June will be a busy month on the environmental calendar. On the 5th, the world will come together to celebrate World Environment Day. Led by UNEP and held annually since 1974, the day has grown to be the largest global platform for environmental outreach, with millions of people engaging to protect the planet. This year’s event will be hosted by Sweden, under the campaign slogan “Only One Earth“, with a focus on living sustainably in harmony with nature.  

While this timeline of environmental achievements is proof of what can be achieved through multilateral action, the science remains irrefutable. Unsustainable patterns of consumption and production are fuelling the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste. UN Secretary-General António Guterres has warned that the triple crisis is humanity’s number one existential threat.

Several global events in 2022 aim to encourage dialogue and influence policy decisions to address the triple crisis. These include a post-2020 global biodiversity framework, which will be adopted in May at COP 15, and could stave off the extinction of over one million species, and the UN Ocean Conference in July, which seeks to protect one of our most vital ecosystems. A detailed list of related events is available on the UN web site.

Last year, the UN Secretary-General reminded the world that “We are at a crossroads, with consequential choices before us. It can go either way: breakdown or breakthrough.”

Experts hope that 2022 will be a year of breakthroughs for the environment.

UNEP

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With decent work and a sustainable model aquaculture could feed the world

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Harnessing aquaculture’s potential to effectively contribute to feeding the world’s growing population in the decades to come will require concerted efforts to promote sustainable enterprises and decent work for its workforce.

These are among the main conclusions of the Technical meeting on the future of work in aquaculture in the context of the rural economy  (13-17 December 2021) that brought together representatives from governments, employers and workers at the ILO to discuss the decent work challenges and opportunities in the aquaculture sector.

In recent decades aquaculture has made important contributions to reducing poverty and hunger in many impoverished rural communities. It remains an important source of livelihoods and food for many rural workers today. At least 20.5 million people work in primary aquaculture production. Many more are engaged along the aquaculture supply chain.

With a growing world population and environmental pressures, aquaculture is increasingly recognized as holding potential for sustainably addressing challenges of food and nutritional security. In a number of developing countries there is also growing appreciation of its role in enterprise development, job creation and livelihood diversification, especially for the rural poor. In order to promote the sustainability and growth of the aquaculture sector and harness its potential to advance sustainable development, inclusive growth and decent work, there needs to be a stronger focus on addressing employment and labour challenges facing the sector.

“If we are to ensure that the aquaculture industry will contribute to inclusive growth and decent work opportunities for more women and men we must create a level playing field and an enabling environment for sustainable production and for workers to enjoy their rights at work,” said Magnús Magnússon Norɖdahl, Chairperson of the meeting.

“Sustainable and inclusive growth in the aquaculture industry could further be beneficial in terms of increasing income and livelihoods for many rural communities, both coastal and inland, and in this process, also contribute to governments’ efforts in alleviating rural poverty,” added Fatih Acar, Government group Vice-Chairperson.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic  has been felt by both businesses and workers in the sector. Workers, especially in processing, have been at heightened risk of exposure to the virus, with the long working hours in close quarters and low temperatures. Businesses have struggled to remain viable, which has been reflected in reduced working hours or lay-offs, impacting the livelihood of workers and their families. The lessons learnt from the crisis should encourage reforms towards more sustainable and resilient aquaculture and food systems more generally.

“The current pandemic has exacerbated decent work deficits in the sector. But many of these deficits had existed long before its outbreak” said Krisjan Bragason, Workers’ group Vice-Chairperson. “Social dialogue, based on the respect of freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, is the key to finding solutions that work for all.”

“Coherent policy frameworks should be created that focus on sustainable enterprise development and productivity improvements, the promotion of inclusive labour markets, skills development and adequate social dialogue mechanisms which involve Employers’ federations. All these elements will drive and enable the future growth of the sector,” said Employers’ group Vice-Chair, Henrik Munthe.

The meeting adopted conclusions that will assist governments, workers and employers to take measures to tap the potential of the sector to support full and productive employment and decent work for all, so contributing to food and nutrition security and making sure that no one is left behind.

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