From: Hans Greimel, Associated Press
Published May 4, 2007 12:00 AM

Asian Development Bank Opens Meeting under Attack from Environmentalists

KYOTO, Japan -- 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.


The environmental group Greenpeace led the attack, urging the ADB to spend more money 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.


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 Manila, Philippines-based ADB was established in 1966 with 31 members and gets most of its funding from issuing bonds and from contributions of its members governments.


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, plans to contribute $100 million to set up a special environmental fund at the bank, local media have said.


ADB officials have declined to comment on the reports.


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."


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.


Source: Associated Press


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